7 Reasons Why Christmas Tree Cutting Can Benefit a Forest


pine cones as natural decoration in a fresh tree

Each year the debate is renewed.  Both sides tout their superiority.  Some favor tradition.  Some favor convenience.  Yet both make claims why they are the green option.  Real vs. artificial trees.  But before you put up a Christmas tree, do you know the benefits to a forest when you cut down a tree in the backcountry (or on your private land)?

For the record, I am not talking about commercial or mom & pop tree farms, but honest to goodness forests.  And since I am talking about Christmas trees, that means evergreens.  Common Christmas tree varieties in the United States include, but not limited to: Austrian Pine, Balsam Fir, Blue Spruce, Douglas fir, Eastern Red Cedar, Fraser Fir, Grand Fir, Lodge Pole Pine, Noble Fir, Ponderosa Pine, Scotch (or Scots) Pine, Virginia Pine, White Fir, White Pine and White Spruce.

Reasons Why Christmas Tree Cutting Can Benefit a Forest

  1. Cutting from an old burn area (with lots of crowded young trees) provides more room for remaining trees to grow
    old burn area with densely grown trees

                                                                old burn area with densely grown trees


  2. Remaining trees are less stressed and better situated to cope with disease and insects
  3. Reducing competition allows for easier access to water, nutrients, and sunlight
  4. Reducing wildfire risk by providing less potential fuel for a fire
  5. Harvesting young trees (think Christmas tree-sized) allows remaining trees to become ‘windfirm’, meaning that they tolerate and stand up to strong winds (less likely to be blown over)
  6. Improving the wildlife habitat by providing ‘vertical structure’ so a greater variety of species can coexist in a habitat ranging from canopy to intermediate to forest floor (many layers) compared to an area in which all trees are the same age (and similar height)
  7. Thinning trees allows more sunlight to reach the forest floor which helps promote greater plant diversity: grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, understory trees, etc…

If you choose to go into the backcountry to harvest your Christmas tree, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Potential Cutting Issues

  • Some areas may require a permit (usually a nominal fee)
  • There may be designated areas for tree cutting
  • There may be a limit set to the maximum number of trees you are allowed to cut
  • Christmas tree cutting may be allowed only during a brief period of time
  • The size of tree (diameter of the trunk at the base) may be regulated.  As an example, 6″ or less may be permitted
  • Gas powered tools, such as a chainsaw may not be allowed, so tools are limited to axes or hand saws
    cutting a fresh Christmas tree with hand saw

                                                       cutting a fresh Christmas tree with hand saw


  • Avoid areas with lots of snags (dead trees still standing) as falling trees may be an issue
  • Access to tree cutting areas may be impacted by road conditions (such as ice and/or snow) so plan accordingly

Cutting down your own tree for the holidays can be a wonderful experience.  Make a day of it.  Involve your children.  Bring along a sled to haul the tree.  Dress appropriately for the weather, but be aware that conditions may quickly change.  Pack a lunch.  Take photos of the adventure.  Be sure to include cord, rope or straps to tie the tree down to your vehicle.

Lastly, be aware that trees from a forest will not be perfectly shaped like their counterparts at tree farms which have been shaped into a pyramidal form.  This creates dense branching (no bare spots).  I view this as a positive.  A tree cut from the forest will have a natural branching habit.  This means that when ornaments are placed on the tree, they will actually hang rather that lying on top of the branches.

So go ahead and brave the outdoors.  Don’t feel guilty for cutting down a tree.  You are actually benefitting the forest.  If you are going into the backcountry (rather than your own land), check with the appropriate agency to see if there are any particular cutting instructions.   Harvesting your own Christmas tree can be a fun family experience and create a memory that you will never forget.





9 responses »

  1. Personally, I prefer a real tree to a fake one…
    However, at my age & given my health conditions/limits,
    cutting a real tree, hauling to my motor car, and everything else that goes with having a real tree, is just out of my abilities to do.
    Yes, I could cut down my own tree…..then after about a 1 – 2 hour rest, haul it to my motor car….
    rest for an hour or 2, tie it down, drive home,untie it from the vehicle,haul it inside, another rest period….get the picture?
    By the time I get done with the tree, it would have died, turned into kindling for a perfect house fire, then my so called Christmas would be a disaster.

    Do I agree with what this author is saying in this article? MOST DEFINITELY!

    Cutting a tree from an actual forest DOES benefit the forest, the inhabitants that live there, the planet in general, etc., etc., etc….it’s a win, win, win situation for all parties.

    But by all means, follow the laws; get the permissions you need(if any are even needed), harvest only what you need & leave the rest untouched; and most importantly, have fun doing it.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

    “…For born unto you this day in the city of David a Savior,
    which is Christ the Lord…”
    KJV Luke 2:11

    • Cutting a tree is indeed hard work as well as hauling it back to the car. I don’t know how many years we will be able to harvest a tree ourselves. But living in a state with multiple old burn areas designated for Christmas tree cutting, we know that we are helping out the forest and we will cut our trees as long as our health allows it.

      • A cousin of mine planted 5 “Christmas Trees” on his property…
        he waited for 1 year before harvest, pruned them to his liking, then every year he buys a new tree to replace the one he cut.
        through out the year, he will trim, shape, feed &baby the heck out of these trees to get them the way he wants them to look.

        From what I have seen of his trees, they are the perfect size for him, the perfect conical shape, & very dense in structure….not to mention, a whole lot cheaper than buying one every year.

        He prefers the Balsam Fir Tree…
        The smell of the Balsam Fir just screams CHRISTMAS! not to mention that it is a very beautiful tree to begin with.

        Is this something that everyone can do?
        yes it is….
        but is this something that everyone is willing to do?
        That depends on your budget, your lifestyle, & several other factors
        that I can not comment on for I do not have that knowledge.

        Only you can decide for yourself if you wish to/can do this.

      • Oh, Balsam Fir is wonderful! Your friend had a great idea… planting his own Christmas trees. Then over the course of a year, he could prune and shape them.

  2. Pingback: Benefits of Christmas Tree Cutting | From The Farm

  3. Pingback: O Christmas Tree!

  4. You are right! Here in Northern California we can get a permit to cut a tree for only $10. The tree you cut yourself is fresher than the ones you buy at the tree lot. Besides it’s so much fun to pack a lunch with hot chocolate and make it a memorable family event to get your tree. Three years ago it rained and then snowed on us while we searched for just the right tree. When we finally found it, we were drenched, cold and haggard, but were so excited to find such a beautiful tree. Believe it or not, that is the fun memory we talk about the most… “remember that crazy time…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s