It's Legal to Cut Down Your Christmas Tree in a National Forest — Here's How

Buddy the Elf had the right idea (but the wrong forest) when he went looking for a Christmas tree in Central Park!

According to the U.S. Forest Service, you can bring home a Christmas tree from one of their 88 participating national forests. To do so, you simply need a Forest Service-issued permit, according to a press release. (Note: Central Park is not a participating national forest.)

"The Christmas tree permit program is also a tool used in thinning dense, unhealthy stands of trees," the Forest Service states. "Forest health experts help identify areas where Christmas trees can be cut, opening up forage for wildlife and allowing the remaining trees to grow larger."

"This information is used to develop cutting area maps that visitors can use to locate their ideal Christmas tree," they add. "Forests will provide more location-specific information on their local permit pages."

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The permits are available on Recreation.gov, or can be purchased at local offices. Babete Anderson, spokesperson for the Forest Service told USA Today that permit costs vary from $5 to $25, depending on the forest.

"Whether for the first time, or carrying on a time-honored tradition, being able to secure a permit in advance, while learning important details of where and what to cut will simplify this process for visitors,” Rick DeLappe, Recreation One Stop program manager said in a statement. Amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, "instead of visiting a Forest Service office in person, visitors will be able to visit Recreation.gov and search for their local forest either from the main search bar or from a map interface."

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To purchase a permit, search for your forest location on the Recreation.gov homepage and select it from the drop-down menu that pops up. The page will then take you to the facility overview page where you should see a "Purchase Tree Permit" button that will take you to the permit landing page.

From there, you will be prompted to fill out personal details and the number of trees you wish to cut down before submitting your payment.

Forest Service officials say that you should then print out your permit and display it on your vehicle's dash when you arrive to cut your trees.

For more detailed information, visit Recreation.gov's "How Do I Purchase and Print a Christmas Tree Permit" page.

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