Families in search of an inexpensive and truly Minnesotan Christmas tree this year should look past their local tree stand and head north -- and bring an axe.
"A lot of families we see year after year. It's become a tradition for them," said Mary Nordeen, environmental education specialist for the Chippewa National Forest. "People can go out in the forest and pick a balsam, spruce or pine."
Permits can be purchased by calling the Chippewa or Superior National Forest's main office or by visiting one the smaller district offices. When picking up the permit, Nordeen said employees are available to help people choose the right tree.
"Spruce trees are pretty, but they dry out quickly and are very strong smelling," Nordeen said. "The trees are going to be more open...they are not usually a perfect tree, but they have character and are beautiful."
Nordeen said balsam fir trees, which have short, flat needles, are the most popular choice because of their longevity, attractive scent and relatively bushy branches.
Though the Forest Service has maintained the Christmas tree program at many different national forests across the nation for many years, Nordeen said the program at the Chippewa National Forest is small. Only 181 permits were issued for Christmas trees in 2008.
Nordeen said tree-hunters are not allowed to harvest a tree near a trail, road, campground or an administration building. She said the program doesn't cause big environmental concerns because of its relatively small size and tight restrictions.
"There are concerns with wetlands, but people don't go into those in the winter anyway," she said. "It's just a nice way to get people into the forest."