Cut your Own Christmas Tree in the PNW for $5 (Or Free!)

With Christmas approaching, one of Washington’s cash crops is quickly being harvested and is getting sent around the globe. The Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association boasts that Christmas tree sales bring $35 million to the state’s economy, making The Evergreen State the fifth largest Christmas tree producer in the nation. Over 2.3 million trees in Washington are cut down each year for Christmas celebrations around the world, with 90% of production going out of state, the majority to California and Mexico. Many of the trees come from Thurston, Mason and Lewis Counties, which means that around the South Sound, we have some of the best Christmas trees in the world.

Washington’s forests are home to amazing trees of all kinds, and the National Forest Service is allowing you to get your own tree this Christmas. Here in the South Sound, we have an excellent opportunity to get a Christmas tree for just $5. Sure, the trees may not be the same shape as every other tree, but for $5, we are able to find out own unique and perfect tree.

Again this year, all fourth graders are eligible for a free tree permit through the national Every Kid in a Park initiative. In order for students to receive a free tree permit, they must present a valid paper voucher printed from the Every Kid in a Park website. Just visit www.everykidinapark.gov and follow instructions to obtain and print the paper voucher. Then, bring the paper voucher with you to your local National Forest Office to claim the free permit. Students must be present to pick up the free permit. These free permits can only be issued through your National Forest Office and will not be available through local vendors who sell permits.

Christmas tree permits from Washington’s National Forests can be obtained from any of the National Forest Service offices around the state, as well as through the mail. The application, which is extremely simple, can be downloaded for nearby Olympic National Forest here. Be aware that you can only pick up a permit for the forest in which you are cutting down a tree; so if you are looking to get a tree from outside Olympic National Forest, you’ll need to find the forest service office in the region you are getting a tree. There are a few other rules officials would like you to know before finding your perfect Christmas tree.

In National Forests, all evergreen species can be cut down. Trees can be cut along the roadway and the understory. However, if you are going to be hiking to find your tree, you must be 100 feet away from the trail. The same distance of 100 feet also applies to those looking to get their tree near a campground or the trailhead itself. Trees are also not to be removed from wilderness areas, which are typically a few miles from most trailheads in National Forests. A reminder: The permit you obtained is only valid for the forest at which it was purchased.

Once you have decided on an area for where you will get your tree, you need to be aware of a few regulations about which tree you can take.  In National Forests, all evergreen species can be cut down, but there are some rules on what size of trees can be taken and where the tree needs to be cut. Trees standing alone, without a tree within 10 feet, are not to be cut. You are also strongly encouraged to take the smaller of the trees, keeping the taller, more healthy trees in the forest. Topping of trees is also not allowed, and all trees need to be cut from as close to the ground as you can. Be aware that if you decide to take a western hemlock as your Christmas tree, the needles will start to fall off in one week, even with the tree being watered.

Once you have cut down your tree, National Forest Service officials require you to immediately attach the tag you receive with your permit to the tree.  If you are hauling more than five trees, the National Forest Service requires a hauling permit, which will need to be picked up and discussed in a National Forest Service office. Make sure you properly secure your tree on your vehicle, using tie-downs as much as possible to avoid losing the tree on a roadway.

The National Forest Service has numerous tips and videos for cutting down your own Christmas tree, and they are more than happy to answer any and all questions you may have, either in person or on the phone. While not from the direct region, the Mount Hood National Forest has put together a great video to ensure you are not only being law abiding while finding your tree but also selecting the best possible tree.

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Story originally appeared on Thurston Talk. Article was and still is written by me. Header image by Gerrybuckel.

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