Harvesting Christmas Trees, a yearly tradition for many

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — Christmas time conjures the visuals of a tree, lights, ornaments, and other traditions, but most of all, it’s a time for families to come together. The decision for those in Summit County is whether to grab a tree from the local providers in town or head out to a national forest and chop down their own Clark Griswold-style. For those venturing into the woods in Utah, it seems to have become a favorite family tradition.

Christmas tree harvesting on federal land is a rather pain-free process consisting of either a visit to the online store on the forest service website or visiting the local forest ranger station managing tree “harvesting.” Regardless of the area, a harvest permit costs $20 though there is an additional fee if purchased online. Each site available for harvest has a quota for the number of permits sold each year.

In Summit and Wasatch County, Heber-Kamas Ranger District offices in Kamas and Heber oversee the Christmas harvests. In this part of the state, eligible trees must be no more than 20 feet tall and be sub-alpine fir trees. In addition, the tree must be at least 200 feet from riparian areas (lakes and streams), roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, administrative sites, summer home areas, or within designated closed areas. When harvesting, the whole tree must be taken with a maximum stump left no taller than 6 inches.

Being able to identify the species of tree is essential. A key distinction is that of a spruce compared to a fir tree. According to the U.S. Forest Service, a sub-alpine fir tree has soft and blunt needles, while spruce needles are stiff and sharp. This could be tested by touching the needles on the tree in question. Another option is to take a needle from the tree between your thumb and index finger. If the needle easily rolls back and forth between your fingers, it is likely to be spruce. The presence of brown or tan-colored cones at the top of the tree is another indication that the tree is not a sub-alpine fir.

Multiple areas within the region are eligible to harvest from, including Highway 150 along Mirror Lake Byway, Highway 35, and Strawberry Reservoir. Many areas do not have cell service and will require some travel over snow or potentially unpaved areas. A 4-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle is recommended, along with survival gear and provisions such as extra food and water. Weather can change quickly, and not all areas are plowed or only done so between certain hours.

General Map of eligible areas for christmas tree harvesting within the Heber-Kamas Ranger District.
General Map of eligible areas for Christmas tree harvesting within the Heber-Kamas Ranger District. Photo: Courtesy of U.S. Forest Service.

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