A free Christmas tree? California forest offering tree permits for the first time

Forest officials are now offering permits to cut down Christmas trees in designated areas of the Stanislaus National Forest, adding another location to the holiday program. The permits aren't just a Christmas gift for the public, but will also help with fire suppression efforts by eliminating smaller trees that fuel fires.

Forest officials require that those looking for the perfect tree print a permit from the forest's website, which also includes a map of where cutting is permitted. Trees are free this year in Stanislaus National Forest, with a $2.50 service fee assessed for the permit. Other California locations, including parts of Sequoia National Forest and Mendocino National Forest, also offer Christmas tree permits, many for $10 a tree.

There are some rules that tree cutters must follow depending on the location. In Stanislaus National Forest, only pine, fir or cedar trees can be cut down, and there is a height limit of no more than 20 feet. Forest officials also recommend that people prepare in advance for where they are going since cell service can be spotty or unavailable in some locations.

The Christmas tree permits are available through Dec. 31. To see all participating forests, visit https://www.recreation.gov/tree-permits/.

"Cutting a holiday tree is a special tradition to share with family and friends while helping to maintain a healthy forest," says the government website Recreation.gov, on which permits are sold. "For many families, venturing into the forest to cut a Christmas tree for the holidays is a treasured tradition carried on for generations, while others may just be discovering the thrill of searching for the perfect holiday centerpiece. For every tree that is found, cut and carried home as a holiday fixture, you’re also contributing to the overall forest health."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.