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Can’t find a Christmas tree? Get one from a national forest

December 3, 2021, 3:21 PM UTC

Sticking a live Christmas tree in your living room this year is a notable expense.

Prices for a 10-foot tree are largely starting at $200 this year (and go much higher), while an eight-footer will run you at least $100. But if you’re lucky enough to live near a national forest, you could score a tannenbaum for just one-tenth of the price—or even less.

The USDA Forest Service has begun selling Christmas Tree permits on the Recreation.gov website. You’ll have to do the work, of course, but the sweat equity you invest will save you a bundle. Permits go for just $10 per tree.

Different forests have different restrictions and limitations. But you’ll have the opportunity to walk away with something that’s much more majestic than what you’ll find (especially now) at your local tree lot. The Tahoe National Forest, for example, lets people cut trees that are up to 20-feet high.

You’ll need to bring your own saw, gloves, boots, and tarp. And don’t forget a tape measurer to ensure the base of the tree is wide enough. And the forest service warns that roads might not be plowed, so you’ll want to be equipped if you’re in a snowy region.

Cutting your own tree in a national forest not only saves you a bundle, it’s actually good for the forest’s health. This program helps the Forest Service thin densely populated stands of small-diameter trees, which just happen to be about the perfect size for Christmas trees. That lets other trees grow larger and provide foraging areas for wildlife.

It also all but guarantees you won’t have to worry about your tree drying up and becoming a needle factory by the middle of the month.

National forests are more prevalent in the western half of the country, but there are a few scattered in the upper Midwest and along the Eastern seaboard.

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