By Peter Madsen • The Bulletin

Evergreen trees strapped to the tops of Central Oregon vehicles are a harbinger of winter.

While some people prefer the convenience of buying Christmas trees from one of the many stalls that pop up in area parking lots, others enjoy hiking into the Deschutes or Ochoco national forests to harvest a tree.

“If you’ve got little kids, make a day of it,” said Brian Tandy, forest products program manager for the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests. Tandy has made a family tradition of chopping Christmas trees that his adult children have since handed down to their children. “Bring a picnic basket and have fun.”

Last year, Central Oregonians bought more than 10,000 Christmas tree permits for the Deschutes National Forest. Around 1,200 were purchased for the Ochoco National Forest, officials said.

Each permit costs $5 and comes with a printout of guidelines. It can be bought at any U.S. Forest Service supervisor office or ranger station and at several local retailers.

The families of fourth-graders can receive a free Christmas tree permit by enrolling in Every Kid in the Park, a federal program.

Yuletide thinning is good for forests. It prevents crowding and helps reduce the vegetation and smaller trees that a forest fire can ignite and then use to leap-frog into the forest canopy, Tandy said.

“(Cutting Christmas trees) is more of a benefit than a detriment, for sure,” he added.

Central Oregon is rich with trees, so it’s important to know where to look for a particular species. Firs, such as the subalpine and noble varieties, are popular Christmas trees. Firs are found in higher elevations among mixed conifer forests west of Bend and may have already been snowed in, Tandy said.

Incense cedar, another popular Christmas tree, can be found near the Black Butte Trailhead.

At lower elevations in the Deschutes National Forest, ponderosa pine flourishes; a little higher up, you’ll find lodgepole pine.

In the Ochoco National Forest, pines grow on south- and west-facing slopes and firs and cedars grown on north- and east-facing slopes, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Firs and cedars make for ideal Christmas trees because their needles grow along a branch’s entire length, which keeps ornaments hung in place, Tandy said.

Ponderosa and lodgepole pines have their fans, too, however, although they don’t branch as thickly and their needles grow in clumps. Trees 12 feet and shorter can be cut, preferably 20 feet from another tree. Even saplings or “Charlie Brown Christmas”-inspired trees, are fair game — so long as you have a permit.

“It just gives healthy trees more room to grow,” said Forest Service spokesperson Jean Nelson-Dean.

Trees should not be cut within 150 feet of picnic areas, campgrounds, other developed areas and state highways. Forest Service roads can take tree hunters to more secluded areas, which keeps the shoulders of roads and highways, such as Century Drive, free of tree hunters coming and going in vehicles, officials said.

Cutting down trees is prohibited in wilderness areas, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and on private property. Do not leave a stump taller than 12 inches because it can present a hazard to winter recreationists like snowmobilers, officials said.

Securing a Christmas tree in a truck bed or to a roof rack is an ideal way to haul it home. Tandy recommends arranging the tree so the broadest part of the trunk faces the direction of travel.

After driving a couple miles, pull over and check the tree’s snugness to make sure it’s fastened. A tree tends to roll and loosen itself when getting blasted by the wind, Tandy said.

When you’re home with your Christmas tree, cut another fresh, horizontal edge at the bottom of its trunk and arrange the tree in a stand with lots of fresh water, Tandy said.

Cutting your own tree means it will stay fresh longer than trees available in Christmas tree lots, which can be cut as early as October, he added.

“You have to put them in the water right away, and even then they dry out fairly quickly,” Tandy said. “The tree you get out in the woods, it can stay moist and flexible through the Christmas season.

That’s one of the benefits of going out and cutting your own tree — it lasts longer.”

Once a Christmas tree has run its course, you have a couple options. Chopped limbs can go into trash can or compost. The trunk can make for good firewood. Branches and needles can lend a pleasant scent throughout the house, too, Tandy said.

If reusing the tree as firewood is not an option, drop it off at the Knott Landfill, or any one of four transfer station & recycling centers throughout Central Oregon, between Dec. 26 and Jan. 31.

Make sure trees are free of any tinsel, stands, ornaments and flocking, or fake, spray-on snow. Or check with local Boy Scout troops about their annual Christmas tree pick-up program.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816,