CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — For the first time since the 1970s, West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest is providing the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, and you can also get a Mon Forest tree for your home if you get a permit.

Buying a fresh Christmas tree from a farm or store will usually cost at least $50-100, but if you’re willing to do a lot of the work yourself, a Christmas tree permit for the Monongahela National Forest is only $5, plus a service fee.

The permit is good for one tree from the district you purchased it for between Oct. 13 and Dec. 31, as long as you follow the cutting rules.

Where can you cut a tree

  • Christmas tree cutting is only allowed in the Greenbrier, Marlinton and White Sulphur Ranger Districts.
  • Permits are district-specific. Be sure to know where you are going to cut your tree and buy a permit for that Ranger District.
  • Do not cut on private land, in Wildernesses, designated campgrounds, special areas, recreation sites or existing tree plantations. 
  • Be aware that private property is intermixed with National Forest System lands throughout much of Monongahela National Forest. Do not trespass onto private property when cutting your tree. Private property is shown in white on the maps. Look for and respect private property signage.
  • Do not cut in active timber sales or areas that have been planted with new trees. 

Download maps for the Greenbrier, Marlinton and White Sulphur Ranger districts by clicking the links. Areas that are white on the maps are private property, and areas that are outlined in red are special areas. Make sure you only take a tree from a green area that is within the black border on the maps and not in a red-outlined area.

If you have questions about where you should look for your tree, contact the ranger district where you plan to purchase your permit.

Also, keep in mind that motor vehicles are only allowed on existing roads that are open to public motor vehicle use. No off-road travel is allowed, and forest roads are not plowed when it snows, so be prepared to hike to find a tree and have the ability to get it back to your vehicle. And make sure you park safely off the roadway and do not block gates.

Which trees can you cut?

  • Select a tree with needles, like pine or spruce. Do not cut any hemlock trees or hardwood trees, such as oak or maple.
  • Do not cut an isolated tree growing out in the open. Choose a tree from a dense grouping to give remaining trees space to grow.
  • Do not cut trees within 100 feet of any road.
  • Do not cut a tree greater than 4 inches in diameter at breast height (4.5 feet) or taller than 12 feet.
  • Do not cut a larger tree than you need and then just take the top. Take the whole tree of the correct size for your home.

Hemlock trees can look similar to pine and spruce trees if you don’t know what to look for. Hemlock needles are short and flat with white stripes on the underside of them while pine and spruce needles are long and cylindrical.

How you should cut your tree

  • Cut the stump as close to the ground as possible.
  • If snow is on the ground, remove it from around the stump so you can accurately measure the stump and tree height.
  • Cut the leftover branches from the stump and scatter them.
  • Carry your tree carefully out of the woods. (Dragging the tree will rub off needles and bark.)
  • If the tree is too big to transport inside your vehicle, wrap it in canvas to prevent wind damage before securely tying it to your vehicle. 
  • Once home, cut the bottom of the trunk off and place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket of water and replenish the water as needed.

How you should prepare

  • Before you leave home, be sure to measure the space where you plan to place the tree in your home (height and width) and measure the space in your vehicle where you will be transporting the tree. 
  • Print your permit at home and bring the hard copy with you on your tree-cutting adventure. Display the printed permit on the dashboard of your vehicle. 
  • Sign and date your permit before transporting the tree. Be prepared to show your permit to a Forest Officer.
  • Print and take with you the Christmas Tree Cutting Area map of the area in which you plan to cut your tree.
  • Make sure you bring:
    • A measuring tape to ensure you select a tree that fits in your home
    • A handsaw to cut your tree
    • Gloves to protect your hands
    • Boots to protect your feet
    • A tarp to sit on and/or to move your tree once it’s cut
    • Rope or straps to secure your tree to your vehicle
  • Check the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources webpage to see if any hunting seasons are open when you plan to be in the woods and if so, protect yourself by wearing a blaze orange. (Put blaze orange on your dog, too!)
  • Cell service is spotty or unavailable on much of the Monongahela. Be sure someone knows where you are going and when to expect you back.
  • Bring a map with you. Don’t rely on GPS, Google Maps or other general mapping apps because they may not be up-to-date with Forest Service roads.

The Forest Service also recommends starting your day early, bringing extra clothes, food, tire chains, a shovel, a tow chain and a spare car key, just in case. Make sure you leave the woods before it gets dark.

For additional information or to purchase a Christmas tree permit for the 2023 season, click here.