Families are taking to cutting their own Christmas tree in national forests, like Dixie National Forest in Utah, a tradition that brings people into the forests and benefits the trees' health.
CNN  — 

The US Forest Service wants you to leave the artificial tree in its box this year. Instead, it recommends, cut your own Christmas tree in a national forest – a tradition that’s good for the forest, too.

Over 75 national forests in the US allow visitors to cut their own Christmas tree, from Olympic National Forest in Washington state to Ocala National Forest in Florida. They’re not all home to evergreen firs, but their unique tree species make fine Christmas displays.

It’s healthy to thin forests of some smaller trees. With fewer trees, there’s less competition for sunlight and other resources and more room for the forest’s flora to grow.

But before you can go tree hunting, you’ll need a permit. You can apply for one through Recreation.gov, a partner of the US Forest Service, where you can select your nearest national forest and pay a small fee, usually $10.

Each forest has different parameters for where you can cut your tree, but as a general rule, the US Forest Service says the tree you choose should be at least 200 feet away from main roads and campgrounds. Many of the forests ask you to keep your tree between 12 and 15 feet, too.

The staff of Mt. Hood National Forest recommends you first clip the branches of the tree you’ve chosen with a pruning tool before using a hand saw to cut down your tree. (Avoid large stumps. The US Forest Service says your chosen tree should have a trunk 6 inches in diameter.)

After you’ve gotten your tree, secure it on top of your vehicle or in a truck bed, and make sure to display your Christmas tree permit while you’re in the forest.