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PIERRE | Christmas will keep on giving to wildlife in central South Dakota thanks to a new program that puts last season's Christmas trees to use improving fish habitat.

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks recently began the new recycling program, when employees and local community members placed more than 60 Christmas trees into cement in a warehouse near the Oahe Dam. In March, the trees will be dropped into the water near Farm Island to create more desirable fish habitat.

The unique recycling project was thought up by Kyle Potter, a GFP employee. This winter, Potter led an effort to collect Christmas trees that had been disposed of in the Pierre landfill, placing them in a GFP warehouse.

Recently, the disposed trees were stripped of the branches at their base and placed into small plastic buckets, which were then filled with cement. The trees later were moved to the Farm Island Recreation Area, where they will be stored until March. That's when GFP officials will drop the 65 trees into the water just off the causeway to provide additional cover for fish.

Potter said trees will be attractive to species such as crappie, whitefish and walleye.

"Hopefully the trees will increase the chance of catching a fish," Potter said.

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The newly adopted idea, Potter said, was actually a recycled idea.

"The High Plains Wildlife Association used to do it 18 to 20 years ago," Potter said.

Members of the High Plains Wildlife Association, along with South Dakota Walleyes Unlimited, helped GFP employees with the first phase of the project on Saturday.

Potter is hoping to involve local Boy Scouts when the trees are loaded onto boats and then dropped into the water, after the ice melts. The trees can't be placed on top of the ice because they may not go in the exact spots Potter wants, he said.

"They cannot be within casting distance," Potter said. The trees will be placed just outside of casting distance, to make sure fishing lines don't get caught in them.

Once the Christmas trees are under water, Potter said he expects the trees to last between five and seven years.

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