Dennis Wells chops down a Christmas tree as part of the annual family tradition each Thanksgiving weekend. The family collects three trees each year to decorate their home for the holiday season. [Photo courtesy / Kammy Wells]

‘Tis the season for a Christmas tree.

With plentiful public lands in Grand County, residents can cut their own on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Gary Howatt from BLM visitors services said that providing Christmas tree permits is one of the “feel good things BLM gets to do.”

“It’s a tradition to go out and get the Christmas tree and have a party,” Howatt said. “They come back every year.”

Kammy Wells said that it has been annual family tradition for as long as she can remember to harvest a tree right after Thanksgiving.

“We take hot chocolate and turkey leftovers,” she said. “If there’s snow, we might do some sledding.”

She gets three permits each year, as available through the U.S. Forest Service.

She decorates all three trees individually throughout her home in Moab. The family room tree has traditional colored lights and is loaded with ornaments hand-made by her five children, and even a few from her own childhood.

The living room tree features white lights, glass ornaments and nativity related decorations.

The tree in the game room reflects her family’s love for sports and her husband Dennis’ dedication to high school sports programs.

“It even has a helmet as a topper,” Wells said.

Wells said that she and her family would still get a tree in the Moab area when she and her husband and children lived in Nevada.

“We’d wrap our tree in a tarp and haul it back on the top of our van when we didn’t live here,” she said.

Her son Shay Wells, and his wife Misty, plan to do the same this Thanksgiving weekend by hauling a tree harvested from the La Sals to their home in Reno.

The Moab office for the Manti-Lasal National Forest sold 225 permits last year. Ninety-seven tree permits were sold at the BLM Moab Office last year; the year before there were 120, Howatt said.

BLM Christmas tree permits became available Nov. 20, and will continue to be available until Dec. 24. Each permit is $10, and one pinyon pine tree is available per permit. Households may purchase up to two permits.

“We used to offer more here, but we’re not able to do that anymore,” Bryant said.

The BLM Moab Office has designated specific areas for woodland harvest. Individuals must come into their office on Dogwood Ave. to purchase the $10 permit. Then a BLM staff member will go over a map with the individual to identify areas where it is okay to cut.

“When we sell permits, we want to make sure people are cutting on BLM land, because there is state and private land interspersed,” Bryant said.

The BLM has also identified where cutting is appropriate to protect scenic corridors along State Routes  313, 279 and 128. All wood cutting needs to be at least 100 feet off main roads.

“It’d be a bummer to do a fun activity, then get a ticket doing it,” Bryant said.

Howatt and Bryant said that popular places for Moabites to go to cut trees are in the Ray Mesa, Black Ridge and Lisbon Valley areas south of town.

“Seventy-five percent of the permits sold are for those areas,” Howatt said.

However, some will go up into the Book Cliffs north of Thompson or near the Utah / Colorado state line, as well.

The U.S. Forest Service is selling permits for Christmas trees to be harvested from the Manti-Lasal National Forest at the Moab district office or by mail.

The $10 permit became available Nov. 25 and will continue until Dec. 24. Each person can buy three permits to cut alpine fir, white fir, pinyon pine, Douglas fir, spruce, and juniper may be harvested in both the Moab and Monticello districts.

To buy a permit to harvest a tree more than eight feet tall, one must pay 50 cents per additional foot.

Wells said that she tries to get at least one 11-foot tree each year.

“I pay extra to get a tree over 8-foot,” she said.

The forest service also requires trees to be cut close to the ground, leaving the stump no higher than six inches. They advise bringing a shovel to dig through snow to reach the base of the tree, as necessary.

Permits should be attached to the tree before leaving the cutting area.

“Tree ‘topping’ is not allowed,” said Moab district manager Mike Diem. “Do not cut the top of trees, or cut down a large tree just to take the top.”

The U.S. Forest Services also wants to preserve visual corridors near ranger stations, campgrounds or picnic areas, and ask Christmas tree harvesters not to cut within five hundred feet of these areas. 

The forest service’s handout for Christmas tree harvesting reminded tree gatherers to bring a hatchet, ax or handsaw to cut the tree and to bring a rope to secure the tree to the vehicle. It also encouraged harvesters to carry a flashlight, chains, shovel, first-aid kit matches for emergencies.

Both the forest service and BLM caution tree harvesters about weather conditions.

“Winter storms come on quickly. Check for weather conditions. If you get stranded, stay with your party at the vehicle,” Bryant said. “Bring additional warm clothing, gloves and boots.”

BLM Christmas tree permits

Moab Field Office

82 E. Dogwood

435-259-2100

Monticello Field Office

365 N. Main

435-587-1500

U.S. Forest Service Permits

Moab Information Center

Corner of Main and Center streets

Moab District Office

62 East 100 North

435-259-7155

or mail

P.O. Box 386

Moab, UT 84532

“It’s a tradition to go out and get the Christmas tree and have a party. They come back every year.”   Gary Howatt, BLM visitor services

U.S. Forest Service and BLM offers $10 permits for fresh-cut Christmas trees