Stalking the Wild Christmas Tree

Reader Contribution by RenÉE Benoit
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Here I am next to our lovely tree. Thank you, lovely tree!

Getting a tree from the wild guarantees that you stay socially distanced plus it gets you some outdoor activity in fresh air. This is always good. Every year we venture up into the mountains of the National Forest near us to find the perfect wild Christmas tree. With a bit of preparation and knowledge you can, too.

The first thing you need is a permit. Go to your nearest Forest Service office and they will sell you an inexpensive permit as well as give you rules and regulations for cutting one. It will have to be from designated areas and the Forest Service will supply you with a map of those areas. It will also have to be no more than a certain height and a certain trunk diameter and will also have to be a certain distance from the road. I don’t say exactly what the rules are for you because I don’t know what state you are in so check with the Forest Service in your area and you will know everything you need to know.

Tree Choice

My favorite tree is always a fir tree and my favorite of all fir trees is the Silver Tip also known as a Red Fir. It only grows above 4,600 feet and is a tree that has stiff branches to allow for heavy snow accumulation. Therefore it holds heavy ornaments very well and has space between the branches so the ornaments are visible. Unfortunately, it is native to the mountains of southwest Oregon and California so if you don’t live there this tree will not be available to you. However, there are many trees like it so you will be able to find a suitable alternative.

The following information is from the U.S. Forest Service website.

Balsam Fir

If you live east of the Mississippi, the Balsam fir will be for you. It grows throughout the Forest Service’s Eastern Region, from New England south to Pennsylvania and west to the Great Lakes states. It also grows from sea level and into the mountains. For example, it grows to 6,200 feet in New Hampshire. It has a lovely dark green color, a great fragrance, and long-lasting needles.

The Douglas Fir

The tree I call the Doug-fir grows everywhere throughout the Rocky Mountains, Southwestern and Pacific Regions. It is the most common Christmas tree choice for westerners. Just so you know, the Douglas-fir is not a true fir, which is indicated by the hyphenation in its name.  There are two main Douglas-firs: the coast and the Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir. They both have a wonderful fragrance.

Sub-Alpine Fir

This is a popular tree that is very similar to the Red Fir/Silver Tip. It grows wild throughout high-elevation forests from Alaska to Arizona and has nicely spaced branches that are ideal for your favorite ornaments. The stout branches won’t bend under the weight of even your largest decorations. The blue-green needles are long-lasting and have blunted ends, making them soft to the touch. The Sub-alpine fir grows best at elevations above 2,000 feet.

Preparing for Your Jaunt

Know the roads and the weather conditions for where you are going.

Take a small greenwood saw* or, if you’re proficient, a small gas-powered chainsaw**. If you’re not already proficient with a gas chainsaw this is not the time to start practicing. Wear warm clothes and bring refreshments such as hot cocoa and an extra pair of dry socks just in case. A pick-up truck with 4-wheel drive is preferred as a passenger cars may not make it on gravel or dirt country roads with their low clearance even if they have 4 wheel drive. The roads are not going to be paved so be prepared. As a matter of fact, it’s a good idea to scout the roads before you go. Also, you might ask a local woodsman or hunter for recommendations on where to go. Sometimes they won’t be very helpful because they want the prized trees for themselves but ask anyway. They’ll certainly be happy to help keep you safe.

Take a good length of nylon rope to tie the tree into the pick-up bed and don’t forget your permit! The Forest Service will want you to attach a tag to your tree before you drive off with it.

Check the weather, of course. If you think there might be snow where you’re going, bring chains.

Getting your own tree guarantees that the tree will last for a month or even longer without losing needles all over the place. You also know it’s 100% organic and won’t be impregnated with preservatives, fire retardant or green spray. Now we’re at home with our lovely tree. I look at my husband and remark “There’s a tree in our living room!”  T’is the season and we hope it’s jolly for you!


Renée Benoitis a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée atRL Benoit, andread all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


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