(photo credit – fs.usda.gov)

It’s that time of year, when trees are often seen in truck beds or strapped to the top of a family car — the result of the hunt for a perfect Christmas tree.

But, where can trees be cut down in Southeast, and what are the rules for getting a clean cut on your own Southeast Alaska Christmas tree?

Typically, an Alaska resident looking for their perfect tree can cut down one per household on federal Forest Service land, without needing a permit. 

Nathan Mooers is a forester with the Ketchikan Misty Fjords Ranger District. He explained a few restrictions to keep in mind.

“Like, one tree per family, don’t cut a tree and discard it when you find a better one,” Mooers said. “Cut old stumps as low as possible, just cut the appropriate sized tree — don’t top, you know, (a) 50-foot tree and only keep the top eight feet.”

Mooers also said trees can’t be cut and resold for profit and they shouldn’t come from muskegs. And, Mooers noted that it’s best to avoid recreation sites or campgrounds when selecting a tree.

Mooers found his own Christmas tree in the Whitman Trail area south of Ketchikan’s city limits

Trees also shouldn’t be within 330 feet of a bald eagle nest, or 100 feet of a salmon stream, according to the Forest Service. 

Good spots in Ketchikan include near Harriet Hunt Lake or Brown Mountain Road, both north of town. Some prefer a trip across the Tongass Narrows to Gravina Island. 

There are more restrictions for Ketchikan Gateway Borough lands. Ketchikan Borough Planning Director Richard Harney says there’s nothing technically outlawing cutting trees on borough property. But people need to check in with the public works department for permission.

For Petersburg and Wrangell, the rules are much the same — don’t choose a huge tree, and make sure to cut low to the ground. Mooers says it keeps the area nice.

“You don’t want a bunch of stumps everywhere by the road … sticking up,” Mooers said. “It’s just more how it looks. Cut it clean.”

Guidance from the City and Borough of Juneau says each household can cut down one Christmas tree throughout the month of December, in accordance with the local tree harvest map. That’s available at Juneau’s city website.

Recreation areas are also off-limits in Juneau. That includes “Auke Village, Lena Beach and all of the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area (Skater’s Cabin, Visitor Center, West Glacier Trail, Mendenhall Lake Campground and Dredge Lakes area),” according to online Forest Service information.

Heen Latinee Experimental Forest is also off-limits for Christmas tree harvest.

It’s a little trickier for Sitka residents. The Forest Service says federal land away from the road system is fine for harvesting. But they caution that a lot of the trees on those lands aren’t good heights for Christmas trees. 

“However, national forest system lands on or near the Sitka road system that actually have trees the size necessary for use as Christmas trees are very limited,” according to Sitka Ranger District information.

The Forest Service also says that the outlying islands around Sitka are either state or private property — so it’s best to check with the property owner. 

Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.