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Guidelines for cutting your own Christmas tree in a national forest

Posted at 7:04 PM, Nov 30, 2020

With December at our door step, the Christmas holiday isn’t far behind and that means people are starting to put up their holiday decor. While some prefer the ease of artificial trees, others enjoy the excitement of choosing a real tree to bring home for the holidays.

And for those looking for a traditional tree hunt in the woods, permits to cut down trees in National Forests are now available. These permits allow people to enter National Forest land and choose their own tree from the thousands of naturally grown options.

In past years, the price of permits has varied, but this year they are free. Permits bought online will still be free, but require a $2.50 processing fee. The permits can be obtained at any local ranger station or online by visiting the website, which provides the following guidelines:

Where to Cut Your Tree

  • Your permit allows you to cut Christmas trees on National Forest land in Montana and Northern Idaho.
  • Do not cut on private land, in wilderness areas, designated campgrounds, or posted timber sales.
  • Please cut your Christmas tree from an overcrowded stand of trees in meadows.
  • Do not cut trees within 100 feet of main roads, streams, or recreation sites.

Selecting Your Tree

  • Each forest has limitations on the size of the tree you can cut and the species of trees that are permitted. See below to help you measure and choose a tree that meets your permit's guidelines.
  • Tree Height: 12 feet maximum.
  • Stump height: 6 inches maximum. Remove and scatter all limbs from the portion of the tree you leave behind.
  • No cutting of 5 needle pines. (i.e. 5 needles in one cluster)
  • Take the whole tree. Do not remove the top of the tree; cut down the entire tree.
  • If snow is on the ground, remove it from around the stump so you can accurately measure the stump and tree height.

Permits are good for all National Forest areas in the state of Montana and you must display your permit in your vehicle while harvesting your trees.

For more information, call the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest at 406-449-5201, or click here for a list of ranger stations where you can get a permit.