The Search For A True Arizona Christmas Tree

Published: Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 3:41pm
Updated: Thursday, December 24, 2015 - 2:53pm
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(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
It's Christmas tree cutting season, meaning people can get permits to cut down their own tannenbaum in national forests - just like Jimmy Jenkins did a few Christmases ago.

When it comes to the holiday season, I usually feel a little like Charlie Brown.

But this year I’m trying to get more into the spirit.

I decided to get a Christmas tree, but I don’t want a plastic tree from the store or an imported tree from a parking lot. 

The National Forest Service actually sets aside a number of trees each year for people to cut, but this seemed counter intuitive,  so I called a horticulturist at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Kim Stone said the practice is actually part of a fire suppression effort to thin out smaller trees.

"I think many people might feel guilty about going out and cutting a tree, but if you think about it, an acre that’s being treated sometimes can have hundreds if not thousands of small trees taken from each acre," Stone said. "So when you go out and cut your one little tree, you’re hardly making a dent and you’re certainly not doing anything negative."

After resolving my guilt, Stone did have one warning — don’t expect the bushy, full trees you see at the store. Those have actually been sheared to produce the robust, healthy look that we all covet.

"So that’s the first maybe disappointment when people go out in the wild," Stone said. "It’s the kind of tree that you’re going to bring home and it’s going to look kind of funky, but you’re gonna say ‘Hey man, I cut this myself.'"

Knowing what to look for, I got in my car and headed for higher ground.

After a beautiful hour-and-a-half drive, I arrived at the Payson Ranger station.

Angie Rodriguez with the Forest Service sold me a $15 permit and showed me where to go.

"We have your tag right here for any species up to 10 feet tall," she said. "You are free to cut your tree down in any of the harvest areas, which is the shaded grey on both sides of this map. So any tree that looks like it’s going to make a good Christmas tree for you would be fine.”

Permit in hand, I drove north for several miles until I saw a promising site on the side of the road. Two muddy, smiling boys coming out of the forest with pine trees hoisted over their heads. 

Ethan Thurman said searching for the perfect Christmas tree with his family and friends was way more fun than going to the store.

"It’s way more exciting," he said. "You have to hunt for it instead of 'Oh, let’s go pick that tree and you buy it.'"

Ethan’s dad Ryan said they decided to make a day trip out of it.

“You know, the drive up together we watched a Christmas movie in the car on the way up and then spending an hour and a half hunting and cutting down your tree and we’re gonna go have lunch together," he said. "It’s just a real special day just to be together as a family and again that sense of using your hands, you know, having to spy it out. It's a lot more exciting than just going to Christmas tree shop and getting a tree.”

After getting some pointers from Ethan, I wandered the forest for about an hour until I finally found it.

I cleared some old growth out of the way with a hatchet so I could get at the trunk with my saw.

It’s not very big and the branches are kind of sparse, but with a little tinsel and ribbon, it will suit my one-bedroom apartment just fine. I’ll bet even Linus would approve.

Its not bad at all really, it just needed a little love.

If youd like to get your own tree, there are still permits available at the Payson Range station in the Tonto National forest and cutting is allowed until Christmas Eve.

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