Cut to the chase

How to find a Christmas tree on public land—and recycle it after the holidays

Cutting down your own Christmas tree can be the start of a new family tradition, time spent bonding with loved ones or simply a fun, exciting way to celebrate the holidays. Whether you enjoy spending an afternoon searching for the perfect tree or love the fresh pine scent that comes along with a live tree, there are many advantages to cutting down your own Christmas tree.

In order to ensure the safety of our public lands and those traveling on them, there are many rules to follow when it comes to cutting down your own tree, including obtaining a permit and common safety practices.

Permits can be obtained from the United States Forest Service at various locations throughout Reno, Sparks and Carson City for $10. These permits are valid to cut down White Fir, Jeffrey Pine and Incense Cedar in designated areas only. Permits are valid through Dec. 25, but they are known to sell out quickly.

However, the Bureau of Land Management has an unlimited number of permits that are valid from the date of purchase through Dec. 24. For $5, permit holders can cut down either a pinyon pine or juniper tree on BLM-administered lands, including the Pine Nut Mountains between Carson City and Yerington and the Clan Alpine and Desatoya Mountains east of Fallon.

According to Christopher Rose, a public affairs specialist with the BLM, supplies needed to cut down a tree include safety gear like safety glasses or goggles, gloves and cutting tools that are sharp and in good condition, whether it be a chainsaw or an ax.

He noted that people should also travel with warm clothing, a first aid kit, extra food and water, heavy rope or chain, a shovel and tire chains in the event of bad road conditions or inclement weather.

The Forest Service also recommends high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles and traction devices when driving on mountain roads this time of year. In the past, vehicles with inadequate tires and/or no chains have caused extensive problems, including blocking roads and preventing other drivers from being able to enter or leave the cutting areas.

Once your tree has been cut, be sure to follow all stipulations included with your permit, including attaching an adhesive tag to your tree and leaving your tree stump no higher than six inches off the ground.

Reno resident Liz Wilson cut down her own Christmas tree for the first time last year with a permit from the Forest Service. According to Wilson, cutting down your own tree is a great excuse for a hike and helps remove overcrowded trees that don’t have resources to thrive.

Wilson said when searching for the right tree, pay attention to areas where trees are packed fairly tightly, like drainages and creek beds, since you can only cut trees within a certain distance of another tree.

She also recommends using good lifting techniques by lifting with your legs and watching your footing.

“When you hike out to find your tree, make sure it’s a route you’d be comfortable following back with the tree,” said Wilson. “For example, rock scrambles are fun, but you definitely don’t want to do them with your arms full of Christmas tree.”


Starting December 26, Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful will begin its annual Christmas tree recycling drive. Since 2003, more than 159,000 trees have been recycled and turned into mulch for park and weed abatement.

According to Community Programs Director Sophie Butler, illegal dumping of Christmas trees is a huge problem in the high desert, which is a major reason Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful created the tree recycling initiative.

“The main issue when trees are dumped is it does become a fire hazard, especially by the time summer comes around,” said Butler. “All of this brush is going to be dried out, and it makes for really good kindling if there were to be strong winds.”

Rather than illegally dumping trees or throwing them in the trash where they can’t decompose properly in a landfill, people can drop off their trees at one of the six Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful locations, including three located in the Reno area. For location addresses visit

For those who aren’t able to drop off their trees themselves, Boy Scouts of America will be picking up trees on behalf of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful on Dec. 28 and Jan. 4 for a $15 donation. To learn more visit