Forest Service Column: Conservation and cutting your own holiday tree |

Forest Service Column: Conservation and cutting your own holiday tree

A child dragging a Christmas tree.
USDA Forest Service |

The holidays are fast approaching, and that means Christmas trees are now in season. Harvesting a tree is a tradition for many families.

Conservation is at the heart of our mission on the White River National Forest. The first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot said, “Unless we practice conservation, those who come after us will have to pay the price of misery, degradation, and failure for the progress and prosperity of our day.”

When the topic is Christmas trees, can acquiring your own Christmas tree be aligned with conservation? Absolutely! Yes, and let’s add fun!

We are very fortunate to live in a rural area where we have incredible options to purchase Christmas trees. We can buy a real tree from a store, nursery, or even buy a permit to cut our own on public land. When pondering the latter, please consider a few rules, anecdotes and suggestions before setting out on this wonderful adventure.

White River National Forest: Kids in the Woods

The White River National Forest sells Christmas tree permits at seven offices throughout the forest. Get to know one of our experts. We love to share our passion for conservation and can recommend Christmas tree cutting locations, as well as other opportunities across the forest.

The White River National Forest announced earlier this month that fourth-graders are eligible to receive a free Christmas tree permit through the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative. Students may present a paper voucher ( at White River National Forest offices to receive a free tree permit.

Last year, the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District in Carbondale sold 1,400 Christmas tree permits at $10 apiece. The money generated from these types of sales returns to the area in the form of watershed improvement projects. The Four Mile Park area, above Sunlight Mountain Resort, is the most popular area to harvest trees in the Carbondale and Glenwood Springs vicinity.

Best Practices for Scouting and Cutting Your Own Tree

Plan ahead and prepare! The first rule of Leave No Trace is to be prepared! The roads this time of year vary from dry and frozen to snow covered and impassable. Tow straps, high clearance four wheel drive vehicles, shovels and tire chains are all good to have. Know before you go. Maps and information are available at all White River National Forest offices.

Find a group of trees out of sight and at least 100 feet away from road and trail. Select one tree from the group. This practice will help the remaining trees grow stronger and faster. The road and trail corridor will remain forested and free from unsightly stumps. Removing a single tree in a forest opening is not recommended, as these trees represent our future forest. Conifer and aspen trees may be cut. Aspens may provide a distinct alternative to the traditional holiday tree. Avoid cutting Colorado’s state tree, the blue spruce.

White River Tree vs. Christmas Tree Farm/Store Bought

If you are after the perfect tree, local businesses sell farm grown trees at competitive prices. The fragrant Fraser and balsam firs are hard to beat. A typical 7-foot tree on the White River takes 15 years to grow. A Christmas tree of the same height harvested from a Christmas tree farm averages about seven years. Tree farms are also increasingly providing more options for consumers, including organically grown holiday trees.

A store-bought tree supports local businesses and regional growers. Over 100,000 people are employed in the industry with over 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the United States. For every Christmas tree harvested on farms, two seedlings are planted the following spring.

The White River National Forest is working hard to replenish these stands. More than 200,000 seedlings were planted in the last three years above Sunlight Ski Area, between Four Mile and Baylor Park.

Whether you cut your own tree or purchase locally, the opportunities to celebrate the holiday season are abundant on the White River National Forest. And remember the words of Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

For more information about Christmas tree permits and free permits for fourth-graders go to

Jon Thompson is the Natural Resource Specialist for the Aspen and Sopris Ranger Districts. Contact him at 970-404-3172 or

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