AUSTIN Some food for thought for Texans trying to decide what kind of Christmas tree to get this year - a decision with economic and environmental implications. Natural trees capture carbon pollution, support U.S. jobs, and can be recycled at the end of the season, according to Bill Ulfelder, director of The Nature Conservancy. He says artificial trees are typically manufactured abroad, using polluting polyvinyl chlorides, and they have a limited storage life.

"Folks use an artificial tree for about five or six years - so energy-intensive to produce, energy-intensive to ship - and then it just sits there in a landfill and doesn't biodegrade."

And yet, he says, twice as many Americans these days buy artificial trees, which usually come from Asia.

Ulfelder says there are a host of environmental benefits to real Christmas trees.

"They capture climate-changing gases from the atmosphere, so they help abate climate change; they're putting oxygen into the air for us to breathe; they're good for wildlife, mammals, birds, insects..."

Tree hunting can be a full-day family event. The Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association website has an interactive state map of cut-your-own tree farms, some of which offer hayrides, arts and crafts, and other activities. Ulfelder says there are more than 12,000 Christmas tree farms nationwide.

"My family and I, you know, we're always looking to make sure we get a local tree. The other thing that's starting to happen is more and more organic Christmas trees - trees produced with no pesticides or herbicides - also better for the environment."

Making the switch to a real tree, he adds, helps the economy as well as the environment. Natural Christmas tree production is a $1 billion industry in the U-S, providing 100,000 jobs.

Find a Texas tree farm at bit.ly/sPtJUj