Every winter, a few hardy souls embark on the great wild Christmas tree hunt. Cutting trees on National Forest land is both inexpensive and can be a family adventure – provided safety protocols are followed. The U.S. Forest Service carefully regulates the practice as an aid to forest thinning.
The $5, $10 or $20-per-tree permits are available at all ranger district offices, forest headquarters and at several commercial vendors.
There are a number of restrictions when cutting trees on forest land. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is closed to tree cutting. Tree cutting also is prohibited in wilderness areas, developed campgrounds, administrative sites, within 300 feet of streams, on private or state-owned lands within national forest boundaries and in other posted areas.
Cutting on private lands is subject to trespass action. If you’re unsure about areas available for tree cutting, contact the nearest Forest Service office.
As winter approaches, conditions can change quickly during a tree cutting excursion. Here are some recommendations from forest managers:
*Check the forest website, fs.usda.gov/giffordpinchot, or call the forest office nearest your destination for the latest road and weather updates.
*Be alert for unpredictable weather and hazardous driving conditions.
*Travel with a companion and always tell another person when and where you plan to take a trip into a forest.
*Remember to take your tree-cutting permit and a map of the location.
*Fill your gas tank before leaving population areas.
*Carry tire chains, a shovel, flashlights and a blanket in your vehicle.
*Bring a rope and tarp to transport your tree home.
*Bring extra food, water and hot beverages.
*Arrive at your cutting area early to avoid traveling in the dark on the way home.
*Wear proper winter clothing and carry extra in case you get wet. Dress in layers.
*Most forest roads are not maintained or snowplowed during the winter.
*Select a tree with a trunk that is six inches or less in diameter. Cut the tree no more than six inches above ground level.
*Put on eye protection and heavy duty work gloves.
*Decide in which direction you want the tree to fall. Make sure the direction you choose is clear of all obstacles, including power lines and vehicles.
*Make the back cut by standing to the side and away from the trunk. Step away as soon as the tree begins to fall.
*Drive safely and slowly — turn on your lights and watch for ice.
Getting a permit
Gifford Pinchot National Forest: You may cut one tree per $5 permit, and there is a five-permit maximum per household. Permits are not refundable for any reason. The Cowlitz Valley ranger district office, the closest to the South Sound, is open Mondays-Fridays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., but is closed daily for lunch from noon-1 p.m. Forest headquarters and the Mount St. Helens monument headquarters in Amboy are open Mondays-Fridays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest: Permits cost $10 each, one tree per permit, with a tree height limit of 12 feet. Trees taller than 12 feet require a tall-tree permit for $20. Permits are sold at the Outdoor Recreation Information Center inside of the Seattle REI store and at the forest offices in Enumclaw (360-825-6585) and North Bend (425-888-1421). For details, go to fs.usda.gov/mbs.
Olympic National Forest: Permits cost $5 each and are good for one tree. Permits may be purchased at any Olympic National Forest office or by mail. For details, go to fs.usda.gov/main/olympic/home.Source: The U.S. Forest Service