Gang Hunting – for the Perfect Christmas Tree

You may have heard, or read, that a shortage of Christmas trees across the country is driving prices up significantly. There are several reasons for the shortage, starting with the major effects of the 2008 recession and ending with recent drought and forest fires. During that recession, a big drop in sales led to prices so low that tree farmers were selling their suddenly-overabundant yule trees for less than the cost of growing them. That led to fewer trees being planted and – now – fewer trees available across the country.

We in Washington, of course, are luckier that most regions of the country. We are surrounded (almost) by “perfect” trees, and the cutting permits are only a fin (half a sawbuck) each. This is a perfect year to start a new tradition or add onto an existing one. If you and your family generally purchase a tree, why not plan a family fresh air excursion into the National Forest ground around us? If you already make that annual family tree hunt, why not plan to include a neighbor – or the whole neighborhood – on a Community Christmas Tree Hunt?

This “tree hunt” is an inexpensive and simple endeavor. Think about it: the USFS Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Christmas tree permit is close by and five bucks; the trees are within a 10 to 30 mile drive of your home; you likely have the vehicle for the weather; a saw or axe; hot chocolate, coffee, hot cider, snacks and sandwiches are always handy this time of year; and you have now rounded up your winter clothing. This is an easy and joyful opportunity to celebrate the Christmas season.

Start by selecting your group – family or friends or both. Then obtain the number of needed $5 permit/tree tags. Get them online or over-the-counter.

Pick up permits at: Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, 609 North Main in Ellensburg; Cle Elum Visitors Center, 312 West First Street in Cle Elum; Mac-A-Bee Gifts of the Southwest, 1401 Airport Road in Cle Elum; Pioneer Coffee Company, 121 N Pennsylvania Ave in Cle Elum; Sportland Shell Mini Mart on Hwy 903 between Cle Elum & Roslyn; and Basecamp Books and Bites, 110 W Pennsylvania Ave in Roslyn. [Remember that your fourth-grader can get a free tree permit by presenting their Every Kid Outdoors Pass to all federal lands, or the voucher available at]

If you prefer, make online purchases on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest webpage at

Next is the simple process or deciding where to go hunt your tree(s). Each year, on our “tree hunt” our family and entourage heads for a small pocket of perfect Douglas firs in the Upper County. There we wander from perfect tree to perfect tree until each tree needed has received proper approval. Other friends swear by an area up Table Mountain, or some hidden stand of trees somewhere up Manastash. Maps of National Forest land (all open for Christmas tree hunting) around the area are handed out with each permit. For PDF maps of open areas across the forest, the simple rules for cutting, along with videos, photos and coaching, however, you might spend a few minutes on the forest webpage. Look it all over and pick a spot or two.

Once you get out there, you will likely have choices of tree types. My family always goes for a Douglas fir, probably because The Old Man – my father – insisted that this was the only true and genuine Christmas tree. The grand fir, noble fir, Pacific silver fir and subalpine fir also make beautiful trees. Poke around the USFS webpage, above, for photos and characteristics, then choose the tree that wants to celebrate with you.

This tree hunt can be a lifelong family and friend tradition. Many decades ago, at some point in December, we would head up to Uncle Ed and Aunt Evy’s place on the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth, Washington. Somewhere on those hillsides was the perfect tree, and only a unanimous vote would get it cut. Tree after tree received a split ballot, but over time my younger siblings would grow weary of democracy, and some perfect young Douglas fir would get a unanimous, teeth-chattering, “Aye!” The Old Man would thank God for our family and outing and the tree for its gift of holiday cheer, and cut the tree.

Years later, from Denver, I would take my Hucklings and their mom on a drive into the Pike National Forest foothills southwest of the metro area. In a conga line of hundreds of chained-up rigs, we would snake our way along the designated one-way trail. About two hours out of our driveway, we’d pull off the trail and pile into the snow. After a bit of “Up there, dad!” or “Over there, mom” we would achieve a unanimous vote, and inaugurate our Christmas season.

Again, probably this week, we will gather family and our permits and head up the County. We all still need the fresh air and the celebration of the hunt for this icon of the season. Decorated with the trappings of faith and family ways, surrounded and filled with gifts, the Christmas tree – with its scent filling the home – is still the focal point of most of our family celebrations.

Pick a day, grab the gang, clothing, tools, food and drink, and go find your tree!

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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