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See how to properly and safely find a Christmas Tree on public lands. Jason Bean, Benjamin Spillman & Laura Longero

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When my daughters were young, one of the most memorable parts of every Christmas was the trek into the woods to cut down our Christmas tree. We set out with high hopes of picking just the right tree, but the final product was more based on how far we were willing to carry the tree, and how cold the kids were getting. Our trees had a certain Charlie Brown look to them, which we enjoyed more than those “bought from the lot” trees that all look alike. Once our little gem was firmly entrenched in its stand, the whole house smelled like a Sierra forest.

You can make tree-cutting a part of your Christmas tradition. The Forest Service provides permits to remove small trees from a number of locations within the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Permits cost $10 each, with two trees allotted per family. Since the Forest Service’s goal is to improve the overall health of the forest by thinning the excessively dense stands of trees, the areas where tree cutting are allowed are locations that have not recently been thinned.

The scoop: Permits are sold in person from several locations. Trees must be no larger than 6 inches in diameter and located within 10 feet of another tree. The tree must be cut close to the ground.

What do you need: A hand saw, gloves, waterproof boots or snowshoes, several straps to tie the tree onto the car, and a few strong family members or friends to help you carry the tree out. Be prepared for a good walk, as it can take awhile to find that perfect tree.

Where to go in the Lake Tahoe Basin:

Within the Tahoe basin, a map has been created showing potential cutting areas that you will receive when obtaining a permit.

Here are a few suggestions:

West Shore

Ward Creek Boulevard in Ward Canyon has a large swatch of area on the south side of the road where trees can be cut.

Barker Pass Roadin Blackwood Canyon has several areas available for cutting. The road is usually gated in the winter, but the Forest Service, weather dependent, is planning on keeping the road open the first two miles up to the Blackwood Creek crossing through Christmas.

North Shore

Many areas have been thinned and are thus unavailable for cutting, but trees are available to the east of Beaver Drive in Kings Beach and much of the area between Tahoe Meadows and Incline Village along Mount Rose Highway. Areas off of Highway 267 above Kings Beach are another option. 

Where to go in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest:

Within the Carson Ranger District, tree cutting is now allowed anywhere within the forest boundaries with the exception of wilderness areas and developed campgrounds or administrative areas. When you purchase a permit, be sure to pick up a map from the Forest Service showing Forest Service lands, and be sure to only cut on public land.

Where to get your permit:

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit

  • Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau, 969 Tahoe Blvd., Incline Village Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays from 8:30 to 4 pm. (775) 832-1606
  • North Tahoe Visitor Center, 100 North Lake Blvd., Tahoe City.  9 am to 4:30 pm daily. 530-581-6900.

Humboldt-Toiyable Forest

  • Sparks: Forest Supervisor Office, 1200 Franklin Way, Sparks  775-331-6444, 8 am to 4:30 pm daily.
  • Carson City: Carson Ranger District, 1536 S. Carson Street, Carson City 775-882-2766, 8 am to 4:30 pm daily
  • Galena Creek Visitor Center, 18250 Mt. Rose Highway, Reno  775-849-4948 Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, 9 am to 4 pm. 

Do you have a fourth-grader in your household? The Every Kid in a Park program offers one free Christmas tree permit to fourth-grade students who present a valid paper voucher or durable EKIP pass. Visit everykidinapark.gov for information about the program and to get your pass.

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