By Joseph T. O’Connor ExploreBigSky Editor

You could take the family van and grab a Christmas tree from a Lowe’s parking lot. But if you prefer to “head out into the country in the old front-wheel-drive sleigh to select that most important of Christmas symbols,” Griswold-esque, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service can help.

The USFS and BLM are offering permits to those wishing to cut down their own Christmas tree this year. Permits are $5, with a limit of three per family, and are available for trees in the Gallatin National Forest at district offices in Bozeman, West Yellowstone, Livingston, Gardiner and Big Timber.

“Cutting a Christmas tree is a great way to spend time outdoors with those close to you,” said Mariah Leuschen, public affairs specialist with the Gallatin National Forest.

Local businesses are also selling permits, including the Conoco gas stations in Big Sky and West Yellowstone, Owenhouse Ace Hardware and Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply in Bozeman, Ace Hardware in Livingston and in Belgrade at True Value Hardware and Lee and Dad’s IGA.

Permits are available through Christmas.

For more information, call the Bozeman Ranger District at (406) 522-2520 or visit fs.usda.gov/gallatin.

Know the rules:

– No tree cutting is allowed within 100 feet of any stream, lake or wetland.

– Only trees 12 feet tall or less may be cut.

– Cut your tree as close to the ground as possible and below the lowest live limb.

– A remaining stump height of six inches or less is ideal.

– After cutting your tree, attach the purchased permit to a lower limb near the trunk for transporting home.

– “Topping” trees, or cutting the top off, deforms any future growth and leaves
a visual eyesore. Take the entire tree or choose another one.

– Trees help protect watersheds, provide habitat for wildlife, and contribute to beautiful scenery. Keep these values in mind when selecting a tree.