Making Tree Memories

To get the best tree, put down your wallet and pick up an axe

Ask a typical American kid where Christmas trees come from, and you might get a humorously logical answer: parking lots. But those of us who are in the holiday-know here in the Pacific Northwest have a more organic, adventurous place to find our arboreal holiday centerpiece: our collective backyard.

There’s really no good reason not to head out into our national forests to grab a tree for the holidays. It will be the cheapest you’ll find—a harvesting permit costs only $5—and it will also be the freshest. Some of those parking-lot pines, which were harvested days or even weeks prior to resale, will turn yellow and drop needles well before their fresh-cut counterparts.

What You’ll Need

To get started you’ll need a five-dollar harvesting permit, obtainable from any Forest Service office, or from a variety of businesses in Central Oregon. If you don’t have a handsaw or axe, be sure to pick one up while you’re in town (a chainsaw is overkill, as most trees can be felled by hand in less than five minutes), along with some rope to secure the tree to your vehicle, and a pair of work gloves to keep the pine pitch off your hands.

Where to Find Your Tree

If you prefer the thick, full-bodied look of fir (and most people do), head for the higher elevations. If you’re aiming for a more minimalist, spacious-boughed pine tree, stay in the lower flatland forests. When considering a coniferous candidate to take home, be sure to view it from all angles; some trees can look misleadingly perfect from one side, only to be asymmetrical or thin-branched on the other.

Before you Cut Your Tree Down

There are a few legalities to keep in mind before you cut. Make sure you’re on National Forest land. The tree must be at least 150 feet away from developed areas (such as highways, campgrounds and parking lots) and 300 feet away from streams or other bodies of water. Don’t harvest from areas that were hand-planted to replenish burned or logged forest. Trees over 12 feet in height are off-limits, as are “lonely” trees—those without a neighbor within 15 feet of it. When you cut, leave no more than 12 inches of stump in the ground.

When You Get Your Tree Home

First, decide where your tree will go and prepare the area for placement. This includes having the tree-stand in place and a pitcher of water handy. (Traditional wisdom says to use a sugar solution of one part sugar to sixteen parts water, but the jury is still out on whether or not this actually helps the tree live longer.) Stay safe: don’t place your tree near any open flame source, including candles, fireplaces or gas ranges.

Placing Your Tree

In the time it took to drive home and prepare the room, your tree was working hard to scab over the cut with pitch, which seals the wound and prevents water intake. To remedy this you’ll need to re-cut a bit of the bottom off the trunk at a diagonal, removing a one-inch chunk. After cutting it, immediately place the tree in its stand and fill the stand’s reservoir with water. The new cut will be pitch-free, allowing the tree to absorb much-needed water. Be sure to top off the water at least once a day; if the cut comes in contact with air, pitch production will resume.

After the Holiday

When it’s time to take your Christmas tree down, consider reusing its healthier boughs for wreaths or other crafty decor. Pinterest is a good place to go for piney craft ideas. When you’re through using what you can (or if you’re not the crafty type), contact your landfill, which will likely offer free recycling options until the end of January. Local Boy Scout troops also run fund-raisers this time of year and will often pick your tree up right at your door—no matter where you acquired it.

Happy Holidays!

Fir makes a great Christmas tree choice.

Christmas Tree Permits

To cut your own tree for the holidays, you need a $5 permit. It’s good for one tree (there’s a five-permit limit per household), and it must be filled out and attached to the tree during transit. You can find permits from these (and various other) locations:


Deschutes NF Supervisors Office  •  63095 Deschutes Market Road  •  541-383-5300

Bi-Mart  •  351 N.E. 2nd Street  •  541-389-5505

Powder House  •  311 S.W. Century Drive  •  541-389-6234


Ochoco NF Supervisors Office  •  3160 N.E. 3rd Street  •  541-416-6500

Bi-Mart  •  2091 N.E. 3rd Street  •  541-447-4951

R & R Grocery  •  940 S.E. Combs Flat Road  •  541-447-7231


Crooked River National Grassland  •  813 S.W. Hwy 97  •  541-416-6640

Bi-Mart  •  1575 Hwy 97  •  541-475-1394


Redmond Air Center  •  1740 S.E. Ochoco Way  •  541-504-7200

Bi-Mart  •  1727 S.W. Odem Medo Way  •  541-923-7220


Sisters Ranger Station  •  Pine St. & Hwy 20  •  541-549-7700

Lutton’s Ace Hardware  •  373 E. Hood Avenue  •  541-549-8011

Bi-Mart  •  445 W. Hwy 20  •  541-719-2000


Hammer Time  •  56820 Venture Lane  •  541-593-8168

Village Properties  •  56835 Venture Lane  •  800-786-7483

Published: November 24, 2015

No Comments

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.