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Wild Christmas tree harvesting can help forests, but mostly it’s just a good time

A group drags a Christmas tree out of the forest
Boise National Forest
Permits for harvesting Christmas trees can be found at recreation.gov.

Christmas is less than a week away, and if you don’t have a tree yet, permits are available through Dec. 25 to harvest one on public lands.

Those permits can be purchased online, and are pretty affordable. In Idaho’s Boise National Forest, for example, they’re just $10, and the website includes maps and rules about harvesting.

Beyond the price, the U.S. Forest Service says cutting Christmas tree-sized pines is also good for forest health.

“The Forest Service is absolutely correct,” said James Johnston, an assistant professor at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. “There's too many small young trees on national forests, and removing the small young trees can help release light, water and nutrients for old trees that need them. Removing small young trees can help create more diverse habitat for a variety of species.”

But even doubling or tripling the number of people who harvest their holiday pines wouldn’t have a huge impact, he said.

The biggest impact, he said, comes from “people getting out into the national forest with your family, tromping around in search of the perfect tree.”

He added that it will “bring you closer and significantly improve your physical and mental health. As long as you can be patient and kind when it comes to tying the thing to the roof of your car.”

Johnston has harvested his own Christmas trees dozens of times, and as an experienced tree hunter, he shared some advice about gauging the size of pines.

“It's always smaller in the woods than it is in your living room, so plan accordingly,” he counseled.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.
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