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Christmas tree cutting on national forest land a holiday treat

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Western Montana’s abundant fir, spruce and pine trees in the Flathead and Lolo National Forests provide a great opportunity to cut your own Christmas tree this season. A short scenic drive, a sharp saw, some twine and a $5 permit are all that’s necessary.

The permit is required for each tree that is cut and removed from national forest land. A family can purchase up to two permits per household from US Forest Service Ranger Stations in Bigfork, Kalispell and Missoula or from vendors who sell them. In Ronan, permits are available at Ronan Sports and Western and Ronan Power Products. 

When you buy a permit, you will also receive a helpful information sheet which states regulations for cutting your tree. 

Be aware that only enrolled tribal members are allowed to cut Christmas trees on tribal land within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Tribal members still need to pick up a permit from the tribal office before harvesting a tree, according to the CKST Tribal Lands office.

The US Forest Service asks you observe the following rules when cutting your tree:  

• Be sure you are on national forest land and not private property. Maps are available to purchase at Forest Service offices.  

• Cut your tree at least 200 feet away from main roads, campgrounds, and other recreation sites. These are closed to all tree cutting.  

• Select your tree from thickets or crowded areas. Do not remove trees from thinned plantations or other sparsely stocked areas. Please leave the isolated or single trees growing alone.  

• Cut only one tree for each permit and attach the tag to the tree before you put the tree in your vehicle.  

• Help maintain roads by removing all discarded limbs and sections of the tree from roads and ditches. 

• Select a tree with a trunk diameter no larger than 3 to 4 inches. 

• Please do not cut a large tree (more than 12 feet tall) just to get the top.  

• Cut the stem off below the lowest live limb or within 8 inches of the ground, whichever is lowest.  

• Be prepared for cold weather and snow. The national forest is mountainous terrain and almost always has snow on the ground in December. 

Also remember that sizes can be deceiving in the great outdoors, and a tree that appears small may not actually fit in your home. Take care to measure tree height and girth before cutting.


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