Believe it or not, people do still go out into the forest, chop down a tree, and stand it up in their living rooms for Christmas. But it is a regulated process—not quite Chevy Chase finding the Griswold Family Christmas Tree.
This time of year, the Christmas tree industry is booming. In 2016 alone, an estimated 1.5 million trees were harvested from 18,000 acres of forest in Washington for a sales value of $18 million. Most people go to tree farms or pop-up stands, but more intrepid decorators venture to national forests to cut their own trees. To finance increased monitoring of the national forests during the winter season, the US Forest Service requires self-sufficient loggers to purchase permits.
Permits are available at all US Forest Service offices. At the North Bend office in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, for example, they cost $10 for a tree up to 12 feet tall and $20 for larger ones. In the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, a $5 permit is good for any tree up to 15 feet. Rangers will also want to see a Northwest Forest Pass before selling a permit.
The cost is low but buying one is important. According to a ranger at the Snoqualmie Ranger Station in Enumclaw, an increased number of rangers will be on patrol on forest roads during weekends to monitor that proper permits have been acquired. They will also be checking for proper tree-felling techniques: leaving no more than six inches of trunk, filling in any holes dug, and trimming any remaining limbs from the stump.
If trudging out into a snowy forest isn't your ideal activity, head to a local Christmas tree farm. Although this method is more expensive—prices vary from $5 to $10 per foot depending on the tree and the farm—you'll have the option to choose your own pre-cut tree or have someone cut a fresh one that you pick out.
These tree farmers know their greenery. Roger Thorson, the owner of Carnation Tree Farm, says that Nordmann firs are typically the most popular trees to buy because they're immune to common diseases. But they're also the most expensive, as they take the longest time to grow. At his farm, a 7-foot-tall Nordmann fir might be more than $70 while a Douglas fir, our state's most common tree, would be less than $40.
Three you-cut or they-cut farms near Seattle:
• Trinity Tree Farm Open since 1982, the Issaquah tree farm has over 40 acres of fir trees to choose from as well as complimentary hot beverages, food stands, and multiple fire pits. Open until 6pm daily
• Carnation Tree Farm One of two certified salmon-safe tree farms in Washington, the spot also sells homemade wreaths and has pictures with Santa; Open 9am–4:30pm Thursday through Sunday
• McMurtrey's Red-Wood Christmas Tree Farm Bring your pets, pick out your favorite pre-cut tree, grab a free candy cane, and take a wagon ride in Redmond. Open until 8pm daily