How and where to cut your own 'wild' Christmas tree

Thursday , November 23, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MARK SAAL, Standard-Examiner Staff

Looking for the perfect Christmas tree? This is definitely not the story for you.

But if you’re craving a unique holiday experience you can share with family or friends — and oh, by the way, get a freshly cut Christmas tree as an added bonus — by all means, read on.

Every November, both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management sell noncommercial Christmas tree cutting permits for $10. Going this route requires a little more time, planning and equipment than the typical visit to the local tree lot — and it doesn’t always result in finding the picture-perfect tree — but the permits allow individuals to go into certain areas of a national forest or BLM land and cut down their own “wild” Christmas tree.

Ambera Kirkland is an administrative support clerk with the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest’s Evanston Ranger District, in Evanston, Wyoming. She encourages those who want to cut their own tree to “treat it like a recreation thing.”

Although Kirkland says good trees can be found on federal land, they aren’t necessarily the same symmetrical cone-shaped wonders with evenly spaced branches found on tree farms — where they plant evergreens in nice rows and carefully shape them as they grow.

“If you’re looking for the perfect tree, you’re probably going to be disappointed going out to cut your own,” Kirkland said. “I’ve had people call us here at the office, and once they start asking questions that are leading up to ‘Am I going to find that perfect tree?’ I tell them, ‘If you’re looking for the perfect tree, go to a Christmas tree lot. If you’re looking for a fun family experience, this is what you want.’ ”

KJ Pollock, public affairs specialist for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, tells people they usually can’t afford to be too picky about trees found in Utah’s wilds.

“Out with Mother Nature, you’ll often see a nice tree in the distance, but when you get up close it’s actually three trees growing together,” Pollock said. “Or it might have a flat side or missing branches. But it’s just a nice family tradition to go out in the woods and snowmobile or snowshoe in, cut down a tree, and bring it home.”

In Salt Lake and Davis counties, the closest place to cut your own tree in the national forest is probably the Heber-Kamas Ranger District, according to Pollock. However, these permits — sold on the first Friday and Saturday of November — can be extremely difficult to get.

“We only issue 1,000 permits, and we always sell out,” Pollock said. “I’d say 200 to 300 people were turned down each day this year.”

From the Ogden area, Pollock says your best bets for a Paul Bunyon holiday experience are either through the Evanston Ranger District of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, or the West Valley City office of the Bureau of Land Management. Both have plenty of permits still available.

OPTION 1: THE NATIONAL FOREST

You can cut your own Christmas tree on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains, in designated areas of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. For this, you’ll need to purchase a $10 permit through the Evanston Ranger District, 1565 Highway 150, Suite A, in Evanston, Wyoming.

Any tree species, up to 20 feet tall, is fair game, although Kirkland says lodgepole pine is the predominant species in the forest. However, there are also some Engelmann spruce, limber pine, Douglas fir and blue spruce — “very minimal on the blue spruce,” Kirkland says.

The Evanston Ranger District office is only open on weekdays. However, two vendors also sell the permits, and they are open on weekends — the Last Chance Sinclair gas station, 49 Aspen Grove Drive East, in Evanston; and the Bear River Lodge, in the aptly named Christmas Meadows on Mirror Lake Highway 150, about 30 miles south of Evanston and just over the border into Utah.

Permits went on sale Nov. 9, and aren’t expected to run out.

“We’ve not ever completely sold out, although occasionally the vendors will sell out,” Kirkland said.

For more information, call the Evanston Ranger District at 307-789-3194

OPTION 2: BLM LAND

You can also cut your own Christmas tree on designated BLM lands to the north, in Box Elder County, or to the southwest, in Tooele County. These BLM permits are $10, available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the agency’s Salt Lake Field Office, 2370 S. Decker Lake Blvd., in West Valley City.

BLM permits allow the cutting of just two species — pinyon pines and juniper trees. Each household can purchase up to two permits. 

For more information, call 801-977-4300.

IF YOU GO

Allison Ginn, public affairs specialist with the Utah state office of the Bureau of Land Management, offers a few tips for those considering cutting their own Christmas tree in the wild this year:

• Go prepared. Be ready for winter weather; a 4-wheel-drive vehicle or snowmobile may be necessary in some locations. Make sure your vehicle’s gas tank is topped off, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Carry a cellphone, food, water, additional warm clothing, flashlight, shovel, first-aid kit and matches. And don’t forget a handsaw to cut down the tree, plus rope to attach it to your vehicle.

• Go responsibly. Stay on designated roads and trails, and respect private property boundaries. When the holidays are over, where possible, recycle your tree.

• Go soon. The longer you wait, the greater the chance of encountering snow. What’s more, the farther you can get off the beaten path, the better the tree selection will be. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, and some roads may soon be closing for the winter.

“Go get your tree closer to Thanksgiving than Christmas,” Ginn said. “And go out earlier — rather than later — on a clear day.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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