A walk in the woods

Department of Agriculture offers permits to harvest Christmas Trees

Dec. 12, 2018 — Taking a walk in the woods is one of the great leisure activities available to residents across Oregon. According to scientific studies conducted at Stanford University, the National Academy of Sciences and by the Japanese Government, walking in the forest can accrue significant health benefits to walkers.

The Oregon coast, in particular, has a nearly unlimited system of trails and paths that work themselves through the state’s verdant forests and the tree-covered mountains that crisscross the state. These trails offer walkers the potential benefit of increased vitality, improved memory, reduced stress levels and a boost to the immune system.

At this time of year, interested hikers can combine the health benefits attributed to walking in the forest with finding the perfect family Christmas tree for a very reasonable price.

Surprisingly, it only costs $5 to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Christmas Tree Program, which entitles buyers to one permit to select and cut down the tree of their choosing within national forests. The USDA lists the most popular tree species used for Christmas Trees are Douglas fir, white fir, incense cedar and lodgepole and ponderosa pines. Not every kind of tree will be available in every region.

The Siuslaw National Forest is one of the nearby locations that residents can search to select their own Christmas tree.

Stephen Baker, who handles media relations for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region, reported in an email to the Siuslaw News that the program, while inexpensive, is quite popular.

“In 2017, the Forest Service sold 41,618 Christmas tree permits in Oregon, and 404 of those were sold in the Siuslaw,” he said, adding that $192,160 was generated by the permit sales.

The Christmas Tree Program was used by more than 40,000 Oregonians last year, but can be challenging from a number of perspectives, most notably due to inclement weather and unfamiliarity with the forest area selected.

Baker suggests that permit holders take some basic precautions before entering the forest.

“Check the weather forecast and road conditions before traveling and dress for the weather,” he advised. “Always be prepared for the cold and the snow and start hunting early in the day in order to have plenty of daylight hours. And bring emergency supplies, including water, food and a first aid kit, as well as a map and a compass, as your cell phone may not work in many forests.”

Those in the nearby Coast Range may have to deal less with snowy conditions and more with rain, thorny undergrowth and wildlife.

The USDA website has a comprehensive list of “dos and don’ts” that they strongly suggest tree hunters check before they begin the search for the perfect Christmas tree.

Among the suggestions provided are some restrictions that may be unexpected. The tree chosen must be at least 200 feet from main roads, recreation sites and campgrounds, and tree hunters should stay away from areas along the sides of streams, rivers, lakes and wet areas. Select a tree with a trunk six inches or less in diameter and prepare to cut the tree no more than six inches above ground level. Never cut a tall tree just for the top.

There is one aspect of the Christmas Tree Program that is designed exclusively for young people, specifically fourth-graders, according to Baker.

“This is part of a national program called the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative to get fourth-graders across the nation out to see their public lands and waters. Every fourth grader is eligible for a pass which provides free access to federal public lands. Fourth-graders can also receive free permits for Christmas trees,” he said. “The program was designed specifically for fourth-graders because research shows that children at this age are at a unique developmental stage where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways. Positive outdoor experiences at this age can be especially formative at building interest in the outdoors.”

According to Baker, one potential obstacle for people to obtain the necessary paperwork from the USDA, is the lack of an online option to purchase the permit.

At this time, individuals on the coast interested in selecting their family tree must drive to one of four locations to pay for and receive their permit. The closest of these is the Oregon Dunes Visitor Center, 855 Highway 101 in Reedsport. More information is listed at www.fs.usda.gov/Siuslaw.

Baker added that there is the potential in the future for an online purchase option, and a pilot program has begun to test the feasibility of a statewide online program.

“Many national forests have agreements with local vendors where the public can get passes. The agency is also piloting online permit programs where people can purchase and print permits from home,” Baker said, “Currently, the Mt. Hood National Forest is using this program and we hope to expand this effort to more forests next year.”

Baker also reminds tree hunters that they should attach purchased tree permits to harvested tree before placing them in a vehicle and should bring a rope and tarp to move the selected tree from the forest.

Most importantly, Baker cautioned tree hunters to always be careful when walking or working in the woods.

“Remember, you are responsible for your own safety and those around you,” he said.

For more information on the USDA Christmas Tree Cutting program, visit the USDA website and click on the Christmas Tree Permit link.

Photo: Ray and Susan Grewe, from Florence, pick up a permit from the USDA at the Oregon Dunes Visitor Center in Reedsport to harvest a Christmas Tree from a national forest.


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