Head to the forest for your Christmas tree this year | SteamboatToday.com

Head to the forest for your Christmas tree this year

U.S. Forest Service offering permits to harvest Christmas trees in Routt National Forest

Halea Nudy and her husband, DJ Nudy, load up a pair of freshly harvested Christmas trees they snagged on Rabbit Ears Pass in this file photo.
Ben Ingersoll

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The turkeys are on sale. The cinnamon, pumpkin and pie crusts are ready to go in cupboards, and in Routt National Forest, the Christmas trees are waiting to be chopped.

Permits to cut Christmas trees in Routt National Forest are available now from the U.S. Forest Service.

“It’s a fun tradition that is very unique to this area of the country,” said Routt National Forest spokesperson Aaron Voos. “ There’s national forests all over the country, but it’s not everywhere where you can just go out your backyard, not have to drive too far and go cut down your own Christmas tree. It’s really cool to be able to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Permits are $10 apiece, and there’s a limit of five permits per household. Each permit allows for the cutting of one tree in the National Forest. Fourth graders can receive a free permit through the Every Kid Outdoors program. To take advantage of the program, visit everykidoutdoors.gov to receive a pass, then head to a Forest Service office with your child and present the pass.

Voos suggests asking around or calling your local ranger district to choose where to look for the perfect tree.

“I would be remiss if I started pointing people to certain spots, just because it’s kind of like hunting, right? Everybody’s got their secret spot that they like to go, everybody’s out for a different experience.”

In addition, the conditions of Forest Service roads and trails can change rapidly with the weather, Voos said. Local Forest Service offices can direct you toward what’s accessible. The Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District office in Steamboat serves the National Forest in the Steamboat area, North Routt and California Park in West Routt. The Yampa Ranger District manages the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and National Forest in South Routt.

There are some areas that are a no-go due to Forest Service restrictions, including Steamboat Resort, Fish Creek Falls, Freeman Recreation Area, the Sherman Youth Camp and the Bear River corridor.

Tree hunters should choose trees growing in crowded areas, as thinning these trees can improve forest health.

“A lot of the trees that we have benefit from thinning, and the Christmas tree harvesting is a good way to do that,” he said. “We encourage people to look for groups of trees and to take one out of that group. No matter if you’re looking for a Charlie Brown tree or a nice, tall, beautiful, 9- or 10-foot Christmas tree, try to find one that isn’t all by itself on the hillside. … That would be beneficial for forest health in the long run.”

Know before you go

• Trees must be for personal use, not for resale.
• The permit must be clearly displayed around the stem of the tree before leaving the cutting area.
• Trees may not be cut within 100 feet of roads or within 200 feet of campgrounds, picnic areas, scenic pullouts, administrative sites, timber sale areas or designated wilderness areas. Distances may be greater for state highways and scenic byways, so contact district offices for details.
• Maximum tree height is 20 feet. Maximum tree diameter is 6 inches at the stump.
• Cut the tree to a stump height of 6 inches or less or below the lowest living branch, whichever is lower. If one living branch is left on the stump, the tree will continue to grow, although it will probably become deformed and encourage disease.
• If you want boughs, choose a taller tree than needed (maximum 20 feet) and use the lower branches for boughs. Please do not cut boughs from other living trees.
For more information, visit fs.usda.gov/goto/mbr/christmastrees.

Voos added that it is important to cut a tree as low as possible to leave a short stump, so plan to shovel some snow from around the base of your tree if you’re chopping in the high country. You should also trim any living branches from the stump.

“If, for example, a 1- to 2-foot stump is left, and there are a few living branches, that tree will continue to live, but the probability of it getting disease is high,” Voos said. “Then, that subsequently could impact the surrounding forest if you end up with a diseased tree as a result of the top portion of it getting cut off for a Christmas tree.”

While in the forest, watch out for dead trees that might fall, particularly in windy weather.

Check road and weather conditions before heading into the forest, and be sure your car is prepared for the possibility of rough roads. Bring a shovel to dig your chosen tree out of the snow and a saw or hatchet to cut it down. You might also want a sled or tarp to help drag your tree out of the forest.

Get your Christmas tree permit at any of the following locations:

Hahns Peak-Bears Ears District Office
925 Weiss Drive in Steamboat Springs

Yampa District Office
300 Roselawn Street in Yampa
Permits can be ordered through the mail from the Yampa office

Clark Store
54175 Routt County Road 129 in Clark

Yampa River State Park
6185 U.S. Highway 40 in Hayden

Craig Chamber of Commerce
360 East Victory Way in Craig

Every Kid Outdoors permits must be redeemed at U.S. Forest Service offices. Permits are also available at the Kremmling Chamber of Commerce in Kremmling and the Forest Service’s Parks District Office in Walden.

For more information, call your local Forest Service office or visit fs.usda.gov/goto/mbr/christmastrees.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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