Harvesting the Christmas spirit: Tree permits offer opportunity for affordable family fun
Craig — The Christmas season means Santa Claus and Rudolph, gathering with friends and feasting on indulgent treats, and of course, Christmas trees draped in sparkling lights and ornaments.
But what if Christmas time also meant a chance to get outside in the crisp, winter air on a sunny, bluebird day? Or the opportunity for an adventure into parts unknown with your kids, friends, siblings or parents?
Harvesting your own Christmas tree is a memorable — and inexpensive — way to get the family outdoors, adding a richness of experience to your holiday traditions to complement the rich foods, piles of presents and constant holiday events.
“When I was in fourth grade, my grandfather took me out to cut a tree and I still remember that experience,” said Chris Joyner, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management Colorado Northwest District.
Joyner now makes a tradition of taking his own daughters out, ages 10 and 2, every year to cut down their own tree on public lands.
“My daughters will tell you it is the funnest thing they do each year,” Joyner said. “You can’t put a price on that experience.”
And even if you were to put a price on it, you’ll only be out the cost of gas money and $10 for a permit, available from the BLM Little Snake Field Office located just off U.S. Highway 40 on the east side of Craig at 455 Emerson St.
With the exception of certain special management areas, the permit is your ticket to select a tree from approximately 1.3 million acres of surface lands administered by the Little Snake Field Office. Those heading towards western Moffat County will encounter junipers at lower altitudes north and west of Maybell, and a growing number of piñon pines the further west you travel.
“This is our backyard, you want to explore it,” said Gina Robison, outdoor recreation program lead for the Little Snake Field Office. “I want to get people outdoors, that’s what’s important to me. You can’t learn about this stuff in a classroom.”
U.S. Forest Service permits for are also available for $10 at the Craig Chamber of Commerce to harvest a tree from the Routt National Forest, which extends throughout much of Routt County into eastern Moffat County. National Forest lands offer a selection of spruce, fir and pine.
“People could use their permits to go up to Wyoming, they could go to Black Mountain, they could go up to California Park… to Rabbit Ears, Oak Creek and Yampa,” said Rebekah Greenwood with the Chamber.
The Chamber has sold 68 permits so far this year, on track to match or exceed the 107 National Forest tree permits sold last year. The BLM Little Snake Office has sold only about 30 permits so far this season, compared to more than 300 permits issued from the Grand Junction Field Office, which sold more than 900 permits last year.
As both a father who loves his family’s tradition and an advocate for public lands, Joyner hopes to encourage others to take advantage of the vast resources Northwest Coloradans have in their public lands.
“The public, this is their land and being able to harvest resources off their land is very important,” Joyner said.
And to assuage the guilt of anyone who thinks cutting a tree down is bad, Joyner and Robison both emphasized that it’s highly beneficial to the landscapes. Not only does it reduce the fire hazard in tree stands, it supports wildlife forage and species such as sage grouse, who lose habitat to encroaching trees.
When you buy a permit, the field office can answer questions such as where to go and what to bring. A four-wheel drive vehicle is a must-have for snow-packed BLM and county roads, and other supplies such as rope (to tie the tree to the top of your car), work gloves and of course, a saw, are key.
“People go out all the time without a saw, you’d be amazed,” Joyner said, who added that watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation before going out is sure to add some extra laughs to your adventure.
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While the state of Colorado will receive much less in vaccines in the second major rollout than expected, Moffat County continues to roll along vaccinating community members with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.