NEW WILMINGTON Christmas trees get second life

The trees are used to shelter small animals in the college biology field station.
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- Christmas lives year-round for Clarence Harms -- at least as far as those prickly Christmas trees are concerned.
Harms, a Westminster College biology professor, has made it a habit to collect Christmas trees for use at the college biology field station, located just east of campus.
Each January, he collects trees from the New Wilmington area and accepts trees from other areas if they are delivered to the Hoyt parking lot on campus. He estimates that about 500 Christmas trees in the last five years have been turned over to the school.
Smaller trees are put through a wood chipper and mixed with other materials to make a mulch used around plants and trees on campus. The larger trees are stacked in spots throughout the biology field station to make homes for small animals such as rabbits, mice and birds that need shelter in the winter.
The trees help create an area where Harms' students can observe the animals in their natural habitat, and it makes good environmental sense, he said.
"I'm always concerned when I see landfills getting things that could be put to other, better uses," he said. "I don't know whether keeping 500 trees out of landfills will make a difference for the planet, but it makes a difference for me."
The trees eventually degrade and become part of the soil again, he said.
No deadlines: Harms said he usually collects most of the former Christmas trees in January because that is when most are discarded, but he has accepted them all year.
"Last year I accepted one just before the fourth of July. It was someone who put the tree in their back yard and it just sat there," he said.
The trees, however, must be free of bulbs and tinsel before being sent to the college because it would harm the animals if ingested, he said.
Anyone wanting more information about discarding their Christmas tree for the college habitat program can reach Harms at (724) 946-7207.

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