All the national forests have moved their Christmas Tree cutting permits to one website this season. Tod McKay of the Bitterroot National Forest said the permit is needed if you plan to cut a tree on the forest land, but now the sales have moved online to make it easier for the public and to reduce person-to-person contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. The permits are free and can still be obtained by mail or by visiting the Bitterroot National Forest offices. Call ahead and see if they have their permit pick-up area ready to go, which will be outside the office. Permits will not be sold at local businesses this year.

At www.Recreation.gov you will be asked to select a national forest - in this case it's Bitterroot National Forest and go through the steps to get a permit. There is a $2.50 transaction fee, so you'll need to register with the site.

The permit is good for up to three trees. You need to display your permit on the dashboard of your vehicle as you're out hunting for that perfect tree.

Christmas Tree tips:

  • Don't cut your tree any closer than 200 feet from well-traveled roads, flowing water, campgrounds and recreation sites.
  • Don't cut a tree in a Wilderness area.
  • Take a tree from an overcrowded area to give other trees better chances to grow.
  • Don't cut in existing timber sale or previously thinned areas.
  • Don't "Top a tree." Do not cut down any tree taller than 12 feet.
  • Stumps must be higher than eight inches.
  • Get a map of National Forest land to make sure you're not cutting on private land.
  • Be prepared for winter weather and start early in the day. Four-wheel Drive vehicles are recommended in the backcountry. Take along emergency supplies.
  • When you get home with your tree, store it in cool area. When you're ready to bring it inside, cut an inch off the bottom to let it drink and it will need a lot of water at the beginning. Don't let the end dry out.
  • Commercial permits for trees or boughs are available at the Darby.Sula Ranger District at (40) 821-3913. The other offices for personal permits are: Stevensville Ranger District at 777-5461, West Fork Ranger District at 821-3269 or Bitterroot National Forest Hamilton office at 363-7100. You can get the latest information on their Facebook page, too.