Into the wild

Cutting your own Christmas tree is cheap, eco-friendly and fun

The writer’s husband, Grant Nejedlo, hauls in their Christmas tree cut near Frenchman’s Lake.

The writer’s husband, Grant Nejedlo, hauls in their Christmas tree cut near Frenchman’s Lake.

Photo By kat kerlin

For more information and a list of locations offering Christmas tree cutting permits in Plumas and Lassen National Forests, visit
Learn more Christmas tree recycling details by contacting Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful at 851-5185 or visiting

A classic environmental conundrum on par with “paper or plastic” is “real or fake” when it comes to Christmas trees.

Real trees from Christmas tree farms can be renewable resources that help produce oxygen and clean air, but many of those farms spray pesticides and fertilizers on them, and a significant amount of fossil fuel is required to truck them in from states like Oregon and Washington. Plastic trees are reusable, but are also made from petroleum-based plastics and polyvinyl chloride, which commonly contains lead, creates pollution, is linked to some health problems, is difficult to recycle and takes years to decompose in landfills.

But I’m pretty sure I have this one figured out. For the past few years, my husband and I have walked past countless fake plastic trees with nary an impulse-buy twinge. We hardly toss a sideways glance to the cut trees lined up like soldiers against supermarket walls. And while the Boy Scouts do carry a nice selection for a decent cause, they also charge about $50 for a tree. Even the “u-pick” farms don’t, excuse the pun, quite cut it. While a live tree from the nursery—the kind you decorate still potted in your living room and later plant in your yard—is a good ecological option, it’s also expensive and doesn’t fit in with our landscaping plans.

So for reasons economical, environmental and just for a fun winter outing, we pile ourselves, the dog and a handsaw into the truck and head for the woods. Not just any ole woods. We’re allowed to cut our own Christmas tree only in designated spots the U.S. Forest Service is savvy enough to indicate on a map for do-it-yourself Christmas tree fellers. Our favorite Christmas tree hunting ground is near Frenchman’s Lake in Plumas National Forest, about an hour north of Reno, where permits were available through Dec. 24. After a quick swing by the Hallelujah Junction general store for our $10 permit and map, we’re on our way into the snowy forest to find our tree.

Here’s where the environmental part comes in: We’re cutting a tree that needs to be thinned from the forest anyway for fire prevention. The state and federal government spend millions of dollars each year to hire people to thin forests throughout the area. And our tree won’t likely have been sprayed with chemicals or fertilizers to ensure its growth.

When the last present has long been unwrapped, and the tree’s needles are beginning to dry despite regular waterings, we disrobe it of all ornaments and tinsel and take it to be recycled into mulch by Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful. The group recycles trees from Dec. 26 through Jan. 18. It requests a $3 donation for the service and provides three drop-off locations: Bartley Ranch, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road; Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, 1595 N. Sierra St.; and Shadow Mountain Sports Complex, 3300 Sparks Blvd., in Sparks.

So aside from all the food we’re likely to eat, we can enjoy a relatively guilt-free holiday.