Tree hunters preserve family tradition


Last updated 11/29/2022 at Noon


Blake Carr, age 4, from Bend helped bag the family tree.

The price of cut Christmas trees has been rising steadily, and this year shoppers in Sisters Country should expect to pay $80 for a six- to seven-foot tree. Or for only $5 a family can gather in the woods and harvest their own tree up to 12 feet in height. That same size tree at a big-box store would run close to $150 — if you could even find one.

The biggest tree The Nugget found in Redmond was nine feet for $109. Overall, cut live trees this year are up about 20 percent, according to the industry trade group Real Christmas Tree Board. So a trip to the Sisters Ranger District Office at Cascade and North Pine for a $5 tree permit may be in your future.

Far more than the savings is the satisfaction and sheer fun of bundling up the kids and heading into the forest and finding that perfect tree, cutting it, and hauling it out, the latter often being the hardest part of the endeavor.

The Nugget met the Blair family from Bend, who come to Sisters annually for tree hunting.

“There are plenty of trees a lot closer to where we live,” mom Becky said, “but it’s so much fun coming to Sisters for our tree. We like the small-town atmosphere and it’s less crowded.”

Dad, Mark, said: “It’s more of a wilderness feel here.”

Their children, Sam and Melinda, were all smiles and occasional squeals as they traipsed through nine to 10 inches of snow at around 5,000 foot elevation near Three Creek Butte. Their goal was a Balsam (subalpine) fir that they like for its narrow shape as it must fit in a particular spot in their home.

Mark was aided by helpful free guides from the Sisters Ranger District office that identify by type and map where to find a dozen different species.

The rules for taking a tree from the Deschutes National Forest are few and clear. The tree must not exceed 12 feet. Trees always look smaller in the forest than on a retail lot, particularly if found in snow. Many a hunter has cut what they thought was a six- or seven-foot tree only to find it was too big to fit on the roof of their car.

Only take a tree that is within 20 feet of another tree. Do not cut trees within 150 feet of state highways, picnic areas, campgrounds, and other developed areas. Do not take trees from designated wilderness areas.

In general, pines can be found on flatter ground at lower elevations. Firs and cedars are found at higher elevations.

Ward and Ella Farnham from Redmond combine snowshoeing with tree hunting.

“It can be quite comical hauling a tree out in snow shoes,” Ella said.

They found their prized tree, an incense cedar, well above the snow line at Black Butte, just in time, as the snow lasted only a few days.

Most hunters come on the weekend when the District office is closed. That is not the problem it might seem, as permits can be obtained from Sisters Ace Hardware on East Hood Avenue, Bi-Mart, Mainline Station, and the Camp Sherman Store. Each tree harvested requires a separate permit.

Rangers say that some hunters mistakenly think that they first get the tree and then stop by to get the permit. You must have the permit in advance, and it must be attached to the tree during transport.

Another occasional issue Rangers see is hunters mistaking private land as public land. Privately owned land is intermingled with public land, and the two can be difficult to distinguish without a map or good sense of your location.


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