Debbie Croft: How to find the perfect Christmas tree in the Sierra Nevada

12/13/2013 8:26 PM

12/14/2013 9:31 PM

One favorite winter activity has all the makings of a memorable Christmas tradition: trudging through a forest in search of the perfect tree.

Property owners in Sierra Nevada communities have an advantage, as pine trees are plentiful in their own backyards. But Central Valley residents may also participate, as long as they follow the rules of our national forests.

Several national forests are accessible from the Central Valley, but the only one currently issuing Christmas tree cutting permits is Inyo National Forest. Permits cost $5, and are available at the White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center.

Only one tree is allowed per family in the following areas:

• Bridgeport Ranger District/Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest – any species of tree may be cut
• Bishop Bureau of Land Management/Green Creek Cutting Area – pinyon and juniper trees only
• Battle Mountain Station/Nevada Lida Area – pinyon and juniper trees only

Please remember, a firewood cutting permit does not substitute as a tree cutting permit.

The maximum allowable height is 12 feet. The tag must be attached to the tree as soon as it is cut. And no Christmas tree cutting is allowed in campgrounds, on private or state lands, at administrative sites, designated wilderness areas, or within 25 feet of stream banks or other water sources.

Wear warm, old clothes, as trees are full of sap and dirt. Allow several hours for the trip. Follow safety guidelines when using a chainsaw. Bring tarps, rope and a thermos of something warm to drink when your task is done.

Visit www.fs.usda.gov/inyo for details or call (760) 873-2538.

Another option for purchasing a fresh tree is at a Christmas tree farm. One reason Stanislaus National Forest does not allow tree cutting is because of the competition it would create with local tree farms.

In Tuolumne County, Bramble Hill Christmas Tree Farm of Columbia offers several varieties of pines, firs and redwoods. Fresh greenery and seasonal produce are also available. Friendly farm animals await petting and feeding. As a free gift for visiting the farm, visitors will receive coloring books, candy canes and mistletoe.

The farm is open from 10 a.m. until dark Thursdays through Mondays. Take Columbia’s historic Main Street, which turns into Italian Bar Road. The farm is located two miles north of Columbia at 12161 Cattle Drive Trail. Follow the signs or call (209) 532-5629.

Hillcrest Tree Farm sits southeast of Fresno in Reedley. During this season, hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 22. Cut a monterey pine or choose a pre-cut noble or Douglas fir. On weekends enjoy the steam train. Call (559) 638-2762 or visit www.hillcrestreedley.com for more information.

This is the last weekend to choose a tree at Twain Harte Tree Farm. The farm is family owned and operated. Visitors make their selection, and an employee will measure, cut and deliver the tree to the pick-up point.

With the purchase of a tree, complimentary boughs are provided for shaping fresh wreathes or garlands.

The farm is on Tuolumne Road North, 11/2 miles south of Highway 108. Look for the farm sign and Moore Drive. Check www.twainhartetreefarm.com for details or call (209) 586-7666. Visit the farm on Facebook for current weather conditions.

Most Christmas tree farms offer a variety of free services, such as flocking, shaking (to remove dried needles and insects), bagging, baling, trimming and drilling. Gift shops located on site may offer tree stands, decorations and fresh greenery for sale.

Between 15 and 20 types of trees are popular to use as Christmas trees. Some have thick branches with short, stiff needles; other trees grow fewer branches with long, flexible needles.

A few things to be aware of are the species of trees, indicators of dryness or deterioration, and what equipment is needed for transporting your tree back home in one beautiful piece.

Trees cut at a farm are fresher than trees sold at a lot, and with proper care should last through the entire holiday season. Complete information is found at www.realchristmastrees.org.

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