Christmas tree hunting is a Sisters Country tradition


Last updated 11/30/2021 at Noon

Craig Eisenbeis

A family or community Christmas tree hunt in the National Forest can be a great way to enjoy an outing free of COVID restrictions.

For most of us, last year’s Christmas season was a significantly subdued one due to the shadow cast by COVID-19. To our continuing dismay, the virus is still with us; but, thanks to vaccines and the resultant declining infections, there is some cautious optimism that the worst may be behind us. As a result, many of us are starting to look at ways to resume some sense of normalcy in our lives; and, for our family, the annual Christmas tree hunt was a step in that direction!

A group activity in the great outdoors, such as a Christmas tree hunt — particularly among vaccinated participants — can be an ideal way to help get our lives back on track after months of limited activities restricted by the pandemic. So, with a houseful of vaccinated family members for the long Thanksgiving weekend, we resumed our annual family tradition of heading into the forest on the Friday after Thanksgiving for a Christmas tree hunt.

The origins of the Christmas tree are invariably traced to the Germanic countries of northern Europe; but there is evidence that the Christmas tree had its beginnings in pagan traditions dating back more than a thousand years. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the first actual historical record of a Christmas tree dates to 1510 in Latvia. By the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, the holiday tree concept had insinuated itself into Christian custom; and, by the mid-nineteenth century, Christmas trees had also become common throughout Britain.

By the time that the first settlers of European descent arrived in Sisters Country, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Christmas tree custom was well established. Back then, obtaining a Christmas tree simply meant going out into the forest, cutting the perfect tree, and bringing it home to decorate. That was traditional then, and it still can be today.

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There have been recent news stories about a Christmas tree shortage spurred by such factors as wildfires, water shortages, and pandemic labor shortfalls, which have caused skyrocketing prices — even here in Oregon, which is, by far, the nation’s largest producer of commercial Christmas trees, doubling the production of our nearest rival, North Carolina.

Even locally, some commercial tree outlets have seen prices as high as $70 for a four-foot tree. However, here in Sisters Country, we are surrounded by thousands of potential Christmas trees right here in our local forests, each with a top price of only five dollars! Every year, the U.S. Forest Service hosts thousands of private Christmas tree hunters; so, there is no better way to obtain your Christmas tree than by having a safe hunt for a wild tree in the great outdoors.

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Our traditional tree hunt last week encountered rather atypical conditions. There was no snow whatsoever, in our traditional hunting grounds. So, if you have a hankering for a hard-to-get noble fir that typically grows at higher elevations, this could be the time, as some of the higher elevations are still snow-free this year. With no snow and temperatures in the 50s, we also ended up with a post-expedition surplus of hot chocolate and marshmallows!

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The first step, of course, is to obtain a Forest Service Christmas tree permit. Unlike last year, when the local Sisters Ranger District office was not open for permit sales due to COVID, this year an outdoor service window has been added for the purchase of permits. The office is located at the corner of Cascade and North Pine Street in Sisters. Permits may also be purchased online at or at one of several commercial outlets, including Sisters Ace Hardware, Bi-Mart, Sisters Mainline (Chevron) Station, Sisters Rental, and the Camp Sherman Store.

The permits currently on sale feature the new peel-off stick-on style; so, say good bye to the plastic zip ties and date-punch permits of the past. Fourth graders are eligible for a free tree permit under the Every Kid Outdoors program. Visit the above website for details.

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Jean Nelson-Dean, public affairs officer for Deschutes National Forest is among the legions of wild tree aficionados who look forward to the annual tree hunt. “For years I have joined friends in the annual hunt for a Christmas tree on the Deschutes National Forest,” she said. “We always make it a special outing with snacks, hot chocolate, and some sledding if possible. In addition to all the fun, it is great knowing that if anyone of us gets stuck, we are not alone.”

Up to five of the $5 permits are permitted per household. Keep in mind that a Forest Service permit is valid only on Forest Service lands, so tree hunters must be certain that the selected tree is not on private land. If unsure, it is a good idea to have a Forest Service map that clearly shows forest boundaries. Trees selected for cutting must be at least 200 feet from state highways, picnic areas, campgrounds, or other developed sites. Trees within 300 feet of streams and lakes are also off limits.

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Other guidelines include selecting a tree that is no more than 12 feet tall; trees taller than 12 feet require a special permit. The tree to be cut must also be within 15 feet of another tree; so, if the tree is standing alone in an open space, find another tree. Complete copies of Christmas tree hunting guidelines and regulations can be obtained online and wherever tree permits are sold.

Finally, be sure that your Christmas tree hunt is a safe one and be properly equipped. Remember to bring a hand saw or axe, along with winter clothing and safety equipment. Tire chains and a shovel are recommended, as are extra food, drinking water, blankets, a flashlight, first-aid kit and survival gear. Tree cutting and travel can take longer than anticipated, so notify friends or family of your destination and return time. Be sure to leave the woods well before dark.

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Also, keep in mind that children have a tendency to wander off, so keep a close eye on children while in the woods. If you travel any significant distance from your vehicle, you should be prepared for outdoor winter travel; and remember that winter weather conditions can change rapidly.

Nelson-Dean hopes that people will take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the local National Forests.

“We hope everyone, whether it is with family or friends, has a fun day recreating on the National Forest, picking out a special tree, and bringing home some holiday cheer this

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year,” she said.


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