You Can Save Big Money On A Real Christmas Tree This Year — Here’s How

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The U.S. Forest Service and national forests around the country are teaming up to brighten up homes on Christmas while helping the forests.Photo credit: Susan B Sheldon / Shutterstock.com

If you enjoy having a live Christmas tree, then you already know prices have been steadily climbing for years. After all, it’s not uncommon to spend between $50 and $120 on a live tree.

There is another option, however, that is considerably cheaper. Plus, it’s a way for you and your family or friends to “make memories” and build or continue traditions.

The U.S. Forest Service began selling Christmas tree permits through the Recreation.gov website 2 years ago, which makes it easy to find and purchase permits. The Forest Service is continuing the practice this year and has begun offering Christmas tree permits at some national forests this week. Christmas tree permits at other national forests will be available early next month.

The good news is that, while the cost of the permit varies from national forest to national forest, they often are $15 or less per tree. And, of course, going to cut your own Christmas tree is fun.

“Every tree that is found, cut, and carried home creates a new story,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said last year. “These stories become the memories and traditions we carry on for generations and further connect families with their local forests.”

A Sound Forestry Practice To Promote Healthy Forests

First things first, if you were thinking that having people cut their own Christmas trees will be harmful to national forests, that isn’t the case. Instead, harvesting Christmas trees is actually good for the forests and plays a role in sound forest management. That’s because the permit system helps to thin densely-populated stands of small-diameter trees.

First, local foresters identify areas of a national forest that will benefit from thinning trees and tend to be the perfect size for Christmas trees. When people purchase Christmas tree permits and remove trees from these areas, it helps other trees grow larger and also opens areas that provide forage for wildlife.

How To Purchase Christmas Tree Permits

Once you decide to cut your own Christmas tree, the next step is to determine where you can legally cut your own tree. Finding that place isn’t as difficult as you may think.

Your first step is to visit the Recreation.gov website.

On the site, you’ll use a search tool to find the participating forest that works best for you. It’s important to note that each forest will have specific guidelines, cutting area maps, and seasonal dates for cutting a holiday tree.

Then, you’ll purchase your permit online. Don’t forget to print your permit so you can display it on your vehicle’s dashboard when you go to cut your tree.

Cutting Your Own Christmas Tree

You can find tips and guidance from the Forest Service about cutting your own Christmas tree here.

For instance, in general, “the tree you choose must be at least 200 feet from main roads, recreation sites, and campgrounds, and stay away from areas along the sides of streams, rivers, lakes, and wet areas,” the Forest Service explains. “Check with the ranger district for the proper distance.”

You’ll also want to select a tree with a trunk 6 inches or less in diameter and prepare to cut the tree no more than 6 inches above ground level.

Importantly, never cut a tall tree just for the top.

And of course, don’t forget a rope and tarp to move your tree from the harvest area to your vehicle.

Follow Your Local Forest’s Guidelines

It’s important to note that guidelines — such as when you can buy a Christmas tree permit, when you can cut your own tree, and even where you can cut your tree — will vary from national forest to national forest.

For example, a Christmas tree permit for Kaibab National Forest in Arizona notes that, while the permits are already for sale, cutting a Christmas tree with a permit isn’t allowed until Tuesday, November 1. Those permits cost $15 per tree.

Meanwhile, a Christmas tree permit for Shawnee National Forest in Illinois also explains that permits are already for sale, but cutting trees in the forest isn’t allowed until Monday, November 14. Those permits cost $5 per tree with a limit of one tree per permit.

Finally, Christmas tree permits for Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan can’t be purchased yet. Those permits, which cost $5 per tree, will go on sale November 10 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

You can find an index of national forests here. You can also search the Recreation.gov website by state or forest name to find more information about the forest where you’d like to cut your own Christmas tree as well as important guidelines for cutting it down.

If you’re starting to plan a trip over the holidays, be sure to visit our holiday travel content, including:

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