We know it's a little early, but already you see the Christmas Tree lots setting up. However, if you are thinking about cutting your own Christmas tree in our national forests, you need a permit.

The permit is now available online for all national forests, including those here in Montana. The on-line permits are at recreation.com and were moved online for an easier way for families to get the paperwork done and also to provide a way for those uneasy about COVID to avoid person-to-person contact. The permit itself is free, but there's a $2.50 processing fee from recreation.com.

Of course, you can still get your free permit at any Bitterroot National Forest office in person. They will have a designated "pick-up area" (often outdoors) to get the permit, so you need to call ahead so they can get the paperwork done before you arrive. On that call, you can also request the permit be mailed. It should arrive within a week. Permits will not be sold at local businesses this year.

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Tod McKay of the Bitterroot National Forest said that you can only get one permit, but that permit allows you to get up to three Christmas trees. Simply have the permit on your dashboard when you're out looking for that perfect tree.

And, there are rules.

  • Cut your tree at least 200 feet from roads, campgrounds, recreation sites or streams.
  • Cutting not allowed in timber sale areas or previously thinned areas.
  • Do not cut down trees taller than 12 feet and don't leave a stump higher than eight inches.
  • Make sure you are on Forest Service land. Purchase a map at any Forest Service office or online at the Forest Service store.
  • Be ready for winter driving conditions and watch for people who might be skiing, sledding or walking on the forest roads.
  • A final note - during general hunting season (until after Thanksgiving in Montana), wear bright colors like orange.

If you are cutting for a fundraising project or commercial use on the Bitterroot National Forest, you'll need a different type of permit, available at the Darby/Sula Ranger District at 406 821-3913. Other phone numbers - Bitterroot National Forest in Hamilton-406 363-7100, Stevensville District-406 777-5461, West Fork District- 406 821-3269.

After you cut the tree, store it in a cool place and when you're ready to display, cut an inch off the bottom to allow the water to absorb. Most fresh-cut trees last over a month if cared for. Always get more information at the Bitterroot National Forest Facebook page.

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