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Originally published December 1, 2010 at 7:06 PM | Page modified December 2, 2010 at 8:31 AM

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The other way: Cutting a Forest Service tree

It's a lot more work but less cost to cut your own Christmas tree in the National Forest.

Special to The Seattle Times

If you're the hardy sort who doesn't mind a bigger challenge, get yourself a U.S. Forest Service tree. It's a much cheaper option. But be prepared: It's more difficult driving, involves some hillside hiking and will take longer to find your perfect tree.

Last year, about 8,000 people picked up their $10 permits at ranger stations or the REI stores in Seattle and Lynnwood, which allowed them to cut up to a 12-foot tree in the Snoqualmie-Mt. Baker National Forest.

Forester Lee Redmond reminds people to dress warmly, as "it's going to be a lot colder than on the tree farm," and drive a four-wheel-drive vehicle or one with high clearance and tire chains.

Although the permit allows you to cut a tree almost anywhere in the forest (except spots such as campgrounds or trailheads), the Forest Service plows roads to two prime cutting spots, south of Interstate 90 and off state Highway 410. You'll find noble and silver firs there — and plenty of other permit holders in their cars.

"Expect a tough go on Forest Service roads," Redmond says. "It's pretty slow going."

Bellevue resident Bill Richards got a Forest Service tree one year, and has one piece of advice: "Use gravity to your advantage." He found a great tree, but it was on the slope below the road. "I was filthy and tired by the time I got it on to the car."

Redmond also advises doing some tree identification before you go. "Occasionally you'll see a family grab a hemlock tree, and they're known for losing their needles very quickly," he says. "There are stories of it lasting 48 hours before it browns up."

Get additional instructions and purchasing information at www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs, or call 206-470-4060.

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