Tree hunting near home | SteamboatToday.com

Tree hunting near home

Zach Fridell

— When Routt County residents want a Christmas tree this holiday season, they need to look no farther than their backyards. Nearly 1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land holds countless trees available for anyone willing to heft an ax or saw.

Permits to cut your own Christmas trees are available for $10 from Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest offices.

The trees can be for personal use only – not for resale – and families are limited to five trees.

John Cunningham, visitor information technician for the Forest Service, said many families have their favorite areas to find trees that remain easily accessible by car. The Columbine parking area near the west summit of Rabbit Ears allows easy access to trees, he said.

Some areas are off limits, including Fish Creek Falls, the Steamboat Ski Area and all designated wilderness areas, including the Flat Tops, Mount Zirkel, Rawah, Neota and Never Summer wilderness areas.

Tree hunters must pick trees from at least 100 feet away from roads and at least 200 feet from campgrounds, picnic areas, scenic pullouts, administrative sites, timber sale areas or designated wilderness areas. The maximum tree height is 20 feet.

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Although many tree species are available in the area, the Forest Service recommends subalpine fir and lodgepole pine. Engelmann spruce dry up and lose needles more quickly than the other trees.

“Choose a tree that is growing with other trees in a cluster. Do not choose the ‘perfect’ tree that stands alone,” Forest Service officials urge. “The forest environment benefits by thinning the clusters and allowing the strong trees to remain and provide for a healthy genetic source for the future forest.”

A collapsible shovel and a cardboard saw sheath, along with work gloves, are recommended for harvesting a tree. Cut the tree 6 inches or less above the ground or below the lowest living branch, whichever is lower.

And most importantly, Cunningham said, “take along some hot chocolate, and have some fun.”

If you go

Permits to harvest Christmas trees are available for $10 at the U.S. Forest Service’s Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District office, 925 Weiss Drive. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. For more information, call 970-870-2299.