Oregon’s Willamette National Forest offered up his year’s Capitol Christmas tree and made a 3,000 mile cross-country road trip to Washington D.C.


In the movie, “Elf,” Buddy’s decision to cut down a tree in Central Park to decorate his dad’s New York City apartment was definitely illegal. But there is a way to cut down a tree on public property that is totally by the books. 

According to the U.S. Forest Service most national forests actually allow people to harvest the trees for personal use, including purposes such as firewood and for Christmas trees. Eighty-eight forests in the United States participate, Babete Anderson, spokesperson for the Forest Service, told USA TODAY.

To cut down a tree, you simply need a Forest Service-issued permit.

“We sell over 200,000 tree permit[s] each year,” Anderson said.

Earlier this year, the Forest Service announced it would “modernize” its approach to selling permits, which have been available on since Oct. 15. The decision to allow online permit purchases is not just one of convenience but also can help minimize in-person interactions as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country. That said, permits can still be purchased at local offices.

Black Hills National Forest, so named by Native Americans because the evergreen trees are so dark green, they look almost black. (Photo: Curious Traveler)

Anderson added that the price to get a permit ranges from $5.00 to $25.00 and varies by forest.

Taking home a tree from a national forest is a two pronged win: Fun for the family and good for the forest.

“The Christmas tree permit program is also a tool used in thinning dense, unhealthy stands of trees,” the Forest Service said in an October release. “Forest health experts help identify areas where Christmas trees can be cut, opening up forage for wildlife and allowing the remaining trees to grow larger. This information is used to develop cutting area maps that visitors can use to locate their ideal Christmas tree.”

But there are specific guidelines to follow, which can vary from forest to forest, the Forest Service wrote on its website. Here are some tips courtesy of the Forest Service: 

  • People interested in cutting down a tree should contact the forest district office nearest to them for cutting instructions and for a permit, if not purchased online. Forest district offices can also help with other information including maps and info on times, dates and accessibility. 
  • The Forest Service specifies that trees or chopped wood cannot be sold and that while in the forest, permits must be in possession at all times.
  • Check the local forecast and latest warnings before going to cut down a tree in case of road closures, fires or other obstacles.
  • Dress for the weather.
  • Start your tree hunt early in the day to make sure there is plenty of daylight.
  • Let a friend know where you are and what time you expect to return — cell service can be lost in forests.
  • Stay away from rivers, lakes, streams and other wet areas. Forest rangers can help with proper distancing information.
  • Be aware of any areas of the forest in which trees could have been damaged by insects, fire or storms.
  • Learn how to use navigation tools such as a map and a compass and carry them with you.
  • Bring an emergency supply kit including first-aid materials, water and food.
  • Attach your tree tag (one tree per tag) before putting your tree into your vehicle to take home.

Most Christmas tree permits are issued in November. The Forest Service notes trees should also be selected from thickets and overstocked areas and must be six inches or less in diameter and at least 200-feet from main roads, recreation sites or campgrounds. The trees must be no more than six inches above ground level.

“Never cut a tall tree just for the top,” the Forest Service guidelines advise. 

Melania Trump receives: 2020 White House Christmas tree


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