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Here’s How I Cut My Own Christmas Tree from Public Land

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This year I decided to follow through with cutting my own tree from public land. Here’s how I did it… legally.

After receiving some questions about the most conscientious options for acquiring or purchasing a Christmas tree, I decided to do the research and find out for myself.

First of all, a real tree is always a better option to the alternative of an artificial tree. They’re far more environmentally friendly, and a vital part of the farming economy. I highly suggest reading the comparisons between real trees or artificial trees.

I started by calling Starker Forests, a private timber agency that also manages their land for public access. If you can not find a similar private timber agency that allows public access, call the nearest National Forest office.

Hilary Swift Poses with a tree from Willamette National Forest that her and her boyfriend Sean Kearney selected for their home. (Photo by Sean Kearney)
Hilary Swift Poses with a tree from Willamette National Forest that her and her boyfriend Sean Kearney selected for their home. (Photo by Sean Kearney)

Land access permits from Starker Forests are free, however to harvest a tree, there’s a minimum donation of $5 required that is given to the charity of your choice, which Starker Forests will match.

I was given a map, with the permitted areas to cut a Christmas tree, as well as a permit to place on my dash that was valid for the weekend.

My first trip out was unsuccessful due to some trees blocking the road and the snow making signs that marked the permitted areas difficult to find. A few days later, the downed trees had been cut out of the road and the snow melted enough to make the roads easier to navigate and the signs more visible.

There were two areas that allow the selective cutting of a tree with the public use permit. Assuming that the first permit area had likely been picked over, I proceeded to the further of the two.

In hindsight, I don’t know how much that really matters. The trees are not manicured specifically for holiday decorating, so many of them are leggy, bushy, and less than desirable. I used this as a good excuse to get some exercise and take my dog “Wrangler” for a walk in the snow.

#WrangleDangle #Wrangler #RainOrShine #WideOpenSpaces #Cattledog #HeelersOfIG #HeelerNation #BlueHeelersOfIG #BlueHeeler

A video posted by Randy Bonner (@randalljbonner) on

After doing some serious searching, I came to the conclusion that I’m a lot pickier about choosing a tree than I thought I would be. The short hike grew into me covering a lot of area zig-zagging around a ridge. I made a climb on a steep part of the ridge, opposite of my vehicle. I spotted a tree that met my standards, and honed in on it.

The saw did the job, but after getting my tree home and trimming it with a saws-all, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to carry one in on a pack and save the energy I exerted cutting down the tree for pulling it out and back to my vehicle.

As relaxing as it was being a solo adventure, a helping hand to simply hold the saw would have made hauling it around and up over the ridge a little easier. Either way, it was a beautiful day, and the scenery was nice.

Heading back to the truck, it crossed my mind how the effort that went into bringing this tree home would make me appreciate it that much more, just as any harvest would.

Getting the tree on top of the truck was actually a lot easier than I had expected, especially considering I had probably just hiked a mile or so along the ridge in my waders, hauling the tree half the way. I used ratchet straps to secure it to the utility rack on top of my all-wheel drive Ford Escape Hybrid.

Getting it home was satisfying.

With a few decorations of lights, Rainier, and some Brad’s Killerfish, I was ready to gift wrap some tackle to put under the tree.

NEXT: Real Trees vs. Artificial Trees

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Here’s How I Cut My Own Christmas Tree from Public Land