As Christmas’s oldest debates about traditions come back around, one tends to stick out among the rest. Do you put up a real Christmas tree or a fake one?
For most households, just a trip to a local Christmas tree farm is enough to fill that need for having a real tree in their homes during the holidays. They simply pick out the prettiest 7-footer and bring it home. However, for the dedicated few, going out into the wilderness is their way of celebrating a longtime Christmas tradition.
For those wanting to venture out into the forest to bring home their family Christmas tree for the first time, here are some tips on how to do that on Colorado public lands.
How and where to harvest
Everyone looking to cut down their own tree must have a permit from the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. Most permits are $10.
The closest national forest that’s available for harvesting is Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, which is overseen by the USFS. You can cut up to five trees, and each tree costs $10.
According to an interactive map from BLM, the nearest open areas to cut down trees on public BLM lands is in Rio Blanco County near White River National Forest. There are three harvest areas near Yellow Creek, and there is another cluster of areas to the west of Douglas Creek.
There are also areas to cut trees and firewood in Gypsum, and several others in Garfield County just north of Rifle. It’s recommended that harvesters call ahead to the BLM office that oversees the particular area where they are looking to cut down a tree — since restrictions and guidelines vary among BLM field offices. For the northwest region of Colorado, there are three offices in the district: the Kremmling Field Office (where permits are $6), the Little Snake Field Office in Craig and the White River Field Office in Meeker.
If you are traveling farther down the Western Slope, those areas may be covered by the Grand Junction Field Office.
What to know before you go
It is very likely that you won’t have cell phone services in these forest areas, so both the BLM and the USFS advise that harvesters do not rely on GPS, bring maps of the area with them and to notify someone of where they are going before leaving areas of service. It is also best to start early in the day to assure you find your tree and leave with it before it gets dark.
There are also general rules when it comes to chopping down a tree once you have the permit.
First, it’s illegal to top trees, meaning to just cut off branches toward the top of the tree, leaving behind blunt, unnatural-looking stumps on trees. BLM also advises to cut below the lowest limb and leave no more six inches of the stump behind. Tree seekers should check road conditions before going out to cut down a tree and to wear bright colors, as hunting season continues.
At Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest areas, trees that are harvested can not be taller than 20 feet and can not have a stump diameter of more than six inches. The USFS also advises that you do not drag your tree on the ground when you take it back to the car; dragging it will cause needles and bark to rub off, leaving bare spots on your tree.
In Routt National Forest, there are several districts that have different rules when it comes to where exactly you can cut down a tree.
In the Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District, avoid cutting trees in the Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area, the Steamboat Ski Area, the Freeman Recreation area and the Sherman Youth Camp. In the Yampa Ranger District, you cannot cut trees in the Bear River Corridor within 200 feet of Forest Road 900.
BLM also prohibits damaging or disturbing any tree with visible cavities or other evidence of wildlife use like nests, using heavy equipment to cut down trees, or harvesting within 150 feet of the centerline of any flowing watercourse or paved road or highway.
You also cannot sell trees or firewood that you harvested from public lands.
For more information about how to get to harvesting areas and buying permits, call the BLM Little Snake Office at (970) 826-5000 or the Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District at (970) 870-2299.