To restore wetlands and recycle holiday greenery, the City of New Orleans’ Office of Resilience and Sustainability (ORS) orchestrated its annual Christmas Tree Drop within the confines of the Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge in late March.

The program, a cooperative effort between ORS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Louisiana Army National Guard, has taken place for 25 years with the goal of increasing and enriching wetlands within the refuge.

Coastal wetlands represent one of the most effective natural landforms for stormwater management, passively stripping excess nutrients from runoff and protecting coastlines against erosion and storm surge.

Donations Increase

New Orleans residents participated in ORS’ Christmas Tree Recycling Program by setting their trees curbside for collection throughout January. This year witnessed a surge in participation, with approximately 8,000 trees gathered by the city’s Department of Sanitation contractors — doubling the previous year’s tally. These recycled trees, instead of being sent to landfills, serve a purpose in safeguarding wetlands.

“The more trees we collect, the more wetlands we create, and that is a true Christmas gift to the city,” said Greg Nichols, ORS Deputy Chief Resilience Officer, in a release.

Each year, New Orleans’ Christmas trees are upcycled to form barriers to erosion in the marshes of nearby Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge. Here, a U.S. National Guard helicopter drops bundle of trees into open water as an airboat stands by to arrange them into a wave barrier. Image courtesy of USFWS

The City’s Department of Sanitation, alongside waste management contractors Waste Pro, IV Waste, Richard’s Disposal, and Ramelli Waste, collaborated with ORS, USFWS, and the Louisiana National Guard to collect, sort, and bundle the recycled trees. Beyond residential contributions, ORS accepted and bundled donated trees from local wholesalers, diverting them from landfills into the marsh.

Over the program’s lifespan, recycled Christmas trees have revitalized an area of marsh equivalent to approximately 200 football fields, offering a vital habitat for diverse wildlife species such as birds, fish, crabs, crawfish, and shrimp.

Coming Together for a Cause

The aerial transportation of trees not only aids in environmental conservation but also serves as a training exercise for the Louisiana Army National Guard. ORS, in conjunction with the Department of Sanitation, provides funding and support for this endeavor.

“It benefits the City of New Orleans and surrounding coastal environment while also providing valuable training hours for our pilots and crewmembers,” said Gabriel Ruiz of the Louisiana National Guard.

The Christmas Tree Recycling Program is a pivotal program in New Orleans, engaging communities directly in coastal restoration and protection, described Samantha Carter, National Wildlife Federation Gulf Program Outreach Manager.

“We continue to lose land in Louisiana at alarming rates, and the fight to restore our coast is more important than ever as we face rising seas and more frequent and intense storms,” Carter said. “Coastal restoration is a high priority for the people of New Orleans, as we value the wildlife habitat, critical storm protection, huge economic benefit and culture that our coast supports. The Christmas Tree Recycling Program is an opportunity for anyone and everyone to get directly involved in restoring and protecting our coast. The recycled trees will create new wildlife habitat and help slow erosion in Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge, creating a natural defense and protecting our manmade ones.”

From October 5-9, New Orleans will host WEFTEC 2024: Leading the Future of Water. Featuring a packed technical program, interactive workshops, networking opportunities, and more, WEFTEC is the water sector’s premier destination for connecting with peers. Registration and housing are open now for WEFTEC 2024, with discounted registration through July 12.  

Top image courtesy of USFWS

Michelle Kuester is a staff member of the Water Environment Federation, where she serves as Associate Editor of Stormwater Report and Water Environment & Technology magazine. She can be reached at