Living With Fire Podcast

Christmas Tree Cutting

December 03, 2021 Living With Fire Episode 8
Living With Fire Podcast
Christmas Tree Cutting
Show Notes Transcript

 Cutting your own Christmas tree is more than a fun way to get outdoors and create lasting memories. On the latest episode of the Living With Fire Podcast, we cover the ins and outs of cutting your own Christmas tree with Jennifer Diamond, Fire Mitigation Specialist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Carson City District, and Tessa Putz with the University of Nevada, Reno Extension. They explain how cutting your own Christmas tree can help restore Nevada's rangelands and thin-out overgrown landscapes, reducing the risk of high-intensity wildfire. Diamond also shares how to get your permit, what the rules are and some tips for cutting your tree on BLM lands in Nevada. Learn more below.

  • To purchase a permit to cut a Christmas tree on Bureau of Land Management land in Nevada go to https://forestproducts.blm.gov/

  • To purchase a permit to cut a Christmas Tree in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest go to https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/htnf/home/?cid=FSEPRD564027
Megan Kay:

Welcome to the living with fire podcast, where we share stories and resources to help you live more safely with wildfire. Hi, I'm your host, Megan Kay and Outreach Coordinator for the living of Fire Program. And I'm joined by my boss Jamie rice combs. Hi, Jamie.

Jamie Roice-Gomes:

Hi, Megan.

Megan Kay:

So we are here to talk about the podcast that you're about to listen to, which is about cutting your own Christmas tree on BLM land in Carson City. So we talked with or not Carson City, sorry, the Carson range District, which we kind of talked about, you'll hear in the podcast how far that reaches. But our guests was we got to talk with Jen diamond, who's a mitigation expert at BLM. And we're also joined by Tessa putz who works for living with fire as a natural resource associate. And so they kind of talk about the ecology, and everything you need to know about cutting your Christmas tree. Does that make sense? What am I missing? Jamie?

Jamie Roice-Gomes:

No, that makes sense. I think it's typically we've only talked about cutting down Christmas trees in the US Forest Service Humboldt Tyagi area. But I really like how we have broadened our information range. And we've we are now talking about cutting down the different trees in the Bureau of Land Management, and land. And so I think it was a really great informational and interesting podcast for folks.

Megan Kay:

Thanks for joining us enjoy the episode.

Tessa Putz:

Hi, everyone. My name is Tessa Putz, I'm a natural resources associate with the living with FIRE program. And my work mainly focuses on the science communication side. So I do a lot of work, translating and distilling current science into educational resources like factsheets, or guides, or websites. And so a big part of what I'm working on right now is the Pinyon, Juniper encroachment education program. So I Yeah, so I've learned a lot about that and have a lot to Yeah, talk about.

Megan Kay:

Awesome, thank you. And that ties in a lot with what we're talking today, talking about today. And then so Jen, do you mind introducing us and letting us know your what you what you do your job title. And then if you don't mind going into a little bit of kind of your history and how you got to your position. Okay.

Jennifer Diamond:

So yeah, thanks for having me today. My name is Jennifer diamond. And I work for the Bureau of Land Management as a fire prevention, education mitigation specialists. So pretty long title. That's because we kind of cover a lot of different things. So I go around in, tried to educate the public on how they can help with fire prevention. So I go to schools and events, and do social media to get the word out on what our causes are and how we can help prevent them. And so I also investigate fires so that I can determine what the cause is, so we know where to focus our efforts. I also am a public information officer. So that just kind of all goes hand in hand with trying to relay the message out to the public, and just a really big advocate for mitigation work. And what we are doing out there on BLM administered lands. And kind of how I got into this position is I have 18 years with the Forest Service. I just recently left that position as a fire prevention officer, which is very similar to the position that I'm doing right now. And prior to that, I have worked on engines and hand crews and did some time with the fire use module. So I did some suppression work for about nine years before I got into prevention.

Megan Kay:

I've really enjoyed working with you by the way since I've been here.

Jennifer Diamond:

Ah, thank you. I really enjoy working with all of you at living with fire

Megan Kay:

So we're here today to kind of pick your brain about the Christmas tree cutting programs. So for people who aren't aware, this this program exists on public lands. So BLM and Forest Service lands, and its program where people can buy permits and go cut their own Christmas tree. And I, at least that's what I know about it. But I wanted to ask you the expert, could you kind of just explain what the what the program is?

Jennifer Diamond:

Yeah, so just kind of like you said, by obtaining a permit, that program allows the purchaser to cut trees on Bureau of Land Management administered plans. The permits are specifically for Pinyon, pine, and junipers. That's the only tree species that is allowed to be harvested with this kind of permit on BLM lands. So the the Christmas tree cutting program is also used to thin the range lands in those dense areas. Those unhealthy stands of trees, we can get in there and just kind of thin it out by allowing the range lands users to get in there and and take a tree. It also better assist firefighters with reaching fire containment, the less vegetation that we have out there that are all encroaching upon each other. It ultimately helps slow the fire spread. And it also opens up areas for wildlife, to forage. So there's a multi purpose here where we are allowing people to have that adventure of getting their Christmas tree, and also reducing the fields out there for firefighters and for the public to ultimately be more safe and hoping to slow the fire spread.

Megan Kay:

Just out of curiosity, do you know how many people participate and cut trees down? Maybe from your experience with the Forest Service as well?

Jennifer Diamond:

I want to say on Carson City district I heard somewhere around 1600 permits are generally issued for BLM Carson City District. I can't really put a number or speak to the other areas.

Megan Kay:

That's a lot of trees. That's a lot of thinning that could possibly be done.

Jamie Roice-Gomes:

Yeah, it is. And Jen, when you say the Carson City District, do you? That's where you work. Right? It is. I was specific to that in the beginning with Would you mind telling folks where the Carson City District is? Yeah, so the Carson City district runs all up and down this year front. And all the way east, towards Austin almost. So it covers a really large area.

Megan Kay:

84% of wildfires nationwide are caused by people. If you're planning on heading out and enjoying public lands, visit Nevada fire info.org and learn how you can recreate responsibly and do your part to prevent wildfires. So my next question for you would be and you definitely definitely covered this, but if you have anything to add, go for it. But it was just how does tree cutting impact the ranges and ecosystems? And just kind of explain, explain why it's good for the ecosystem to do to cut your own Christmas tree? And to go in there. I think it's I think it's great that it it makes sense to me that it for wildfire, risk mitigation, reducing the risk and going in there and getting rid of those those hazardous fuels. But as far as you know, myself, I'm kind of a layman when it comes to ecology I'm learning Yeah, it could you drop some knowledge about just the the effect that it has on the ecosystem.

Jennifer Diamond:

So I guess I like to look at it as it's a part of active forest management, and that overall is good for the ecosystems. It's an important part of like he said, reducing the risk of fire in the forest or range lands and to make the rangelands healthier overall. And so, by allowing like a small harvest of trees, over an area can improve the rangelands by doing that thinning like we were talking about. And we do a similar thing on a much larger scale. With our Fuels program, so we have projects all over the state working to reduce fuels. And so I kind of look at it from a fire prevention mitigation standpoint, as that's what this program is doing on a little bit of a smaller scale there. So when you talk about, you know, being healthy, all of those trees out there are ultimately competing with one another. So many of them will ultimately die from kind of fighting each other for the same sunlight and water. So by fitting them, the ones that we leave behind, are going to be much healthier than if we left them crowded and fighting for survival. So when you do go out there and pick a tree, it's best to pick one from an area that is overstocked and really dense. Just a little thicket area, if you can find a nice one in there. That's the best to do. So that we're we're reaching that goal of creating some spacing between the trees.

Megan Kay:

Yeah, that's a great point. Because I feel like when people are going out to cut their Christmas trees, they're probably not thinking about that. They're just thinking about, you know, what's the prettiest tree that they want to take home? So I also wanted to kind of pivot and ask Tessa, some questions about pinyon and juniper encroachment on the range lens, because that's your specialty.

Tessa Putz:

Yeah, I would, yeah, I'd love to speak to that a little bit. Jen brings up some really great points about you know, managing the landscape. And in either case, you know, we're we need to manage both landscapes, both ecosystems for resilience, and so you know, we have Pinyon, Juniper woodland expanding into the sagebrush, rangelands, and they're out competing the shrubs and the grasses and forbs for the you know, the resources that Jen talked about the you know, water and sunlight and nutrients, you know, trees have these wide reaching far reaching routes, and they can acquire a lot of these resources much more easily than a shrubs and herbaceous plants do. And so, yeah, so these are sagebrush seas are really threatened by encroachment. And, but they, you know, they have their own value, they support, you know, a lot of ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, and soil stability. And they also provide, you know, a lot of habitat for wildlife. We all know, a lot of us probably know about the sage grouse, but there's many other species that are specifically dependent upon. And then also like the game that use it as well, they'll use the woodland and they'll use the sagebrush ecosystems as well. And so, yeah, it's, it's important, but to, you know, to improve resilience of the sagebrush, but then also the, the woodland is, well, you know, with infilling we've had, you know, these forests become a lot more dense. And, yeah, we need to, you know, in, in these under these, you know, more stressful conditions that we're seeing, we need to reduce the number of trees which, you know, by cutting, having people come in and cut, that's a great way great way to do that.

Megan Kay:

Yeah, I was always this just as an anecdote. When I was getting out, you know, for sort of discovering Nevada as an adult and like going out into the, to the country in the backcountry. I didn't really understand the term rangelands, because to me, it always just seemed like a forest. And then now that I'm getting, I understand, like the background in the in the ecology a little bit in the encroachment of these pinion and pinion trees and Juniper is it's like, okay, so there's it wasn't meant to be like dense, dense stands of pinyon and juniper, not not necessarily. So it's been interesting to it's like a shift because it's what I was used to growing up, you know, it's like I'm used to this is just the, the landscape. And then when you think about it, in terms of like, these are actually encroaching and sucking up all the water out of the soil. And it's really kind of a paradigm shift and like the way I look at Nevada and the landscape, so thank you guys for giving the background on that ecology. I think that we did talk a lot about the what thinning and cutting these trees does for hazardous wildland fuel mitigation. And to kind of unpack that term, meaning that that build up of all these hazardous fuels creates potential fuel fuel for wildfire. I said that really poorly. So maybe Jen, you could unpack that term for everybody, just the the term of just hazardous wildland fuels. And then also, if you wanted to add anything more to how cutting your Christmas tree helps with that effort.

Jennifer Diamond:

Okay, yeah, so when we talk about hazardous fuels and reducing fuels, and these projects that we're doing the the objective there is to remove enough vegetation so that when a wildfire does burn in that area, it's less severe and can be more easily managed. So when that vegetation accumulates, it allows fires to burn much hotter, much faster, the flame links are higher, the embers get thrown into the next stand of vegetation. So by clearing out some of those small trees out of those dense areas, it's just helping and reducing those odds of those embers carrying it into the next standard vegetation. So that's kind of what we mean when we talk about reducing fuels and having that spacing in between each other. And so, like I mentioned earlier, we we have a field program that works on reducing the excess vegetation. And they work through various projects such as mastication, chipping, building hand piles to burn, doing broadcast, prescribed burns, having firewood cutting permit program, and also by harvesting small trees, such as this Christmas tree program. So that's kind of multiple ways that we do reduction feels work. And so for those families that are chopping down their own trees, they're kind of they're contributing to doing that part in the spitting out the rangelands in the forest. So we're kind of killing two birds with one stone there, if you say that.

Megan Kay:

I love that idea. And I feel like people would love that as well. I am inspired to do it. So and I've never done it before. So I want to move on to talking about sort of the ins and outs of cutting your own Christmas tree. But before I do, I wanted to give you guys like Jamie and Tessa chance to add anything else about just sort of the fuels or the ecology portion of it if you have anything else. Yeah, I think one thing that is really interesting to think about is that with at least on the encroachment side, that as you know, Woodland expands the the fire regime really changes. So with, you know, encouraging trees, both the fuel structure and the amount changes. And so, you know, more trees obviously leads to more fuel and more litter and more downed wood. But there's this change from more patchy surface fire that's not as continuous. Like within the shrubs to with trees, fire that's in the canopy. And this connection from surface fires to camp canopy fires that are often often need more extreme fire weather conditions to occur. And then when they do occur, there's more connectivity. And so, you know, if we can, you know, reduce the fuel loads, like the many ways that Jen talked about reduce encroachment that all of that is really important to do, so that we decrease high severity wildfires, or at least the potential for them. communities located in wildfire prone areas need to take extra measures to live safely. There are many ways to prepare communities and properties for wildfire, including creating and maintaining adequate defensible space and hardening homes to withstand wildfires. This could mean altering or replacing certain components of the home. Our wildfire home retrofit guide will help you better prepare your home and communities for wildfire. You can find the guide and the resources section of our website at living with fire.com.

Jamie Roice-Gomes:

I think maybe we should clarify like, like some terms that folks might not know, like, what's the canopy? What's herbaceous? What's mastication? Maybe we can give like a little couple sentence. You know, explanation what those things are.

Megan Kay:

Yeah. So Jen, do you mind talking about mastication? Since you brought it up?

Jennifer Diamond:

Sure. mastication is a way that we can reduce the fields by using mechanical equipment. So for instance, we might bring in I am forgetting the name of the the actual piece of equipment that can basically Munch down all of the vegetation down to the surface.

Megan Kay:

Is it called a masticator. Oh, yeah.

Jennifer Diamond:

There's another piece of equipment that I'm thinking of besides that,

Megan Kay:

and it has like the many blades on it, basically. Right. And yeah, it kind of like most through and chopped it up and punches it over. Yeah,

Jennifer Diamond:

it does. And so it just kind of eats it up. It makes it real small and takes it down to the surface level.

Megan Kay:

Yeah. Which is something that people don't think of the, like that sort of mechanical treatment for sure. And then herbaceous. Definitely want to take that one. Yeah, I, I've Yes, I brought that up. So that just refers to the more leafy plants that are growing with the shrubs. So that's the the grasses and the forbs, which are the, you know, some are more of the wildflowers that we see. And so those all grow in these sagebrush rangelands, and are really important because they provide food and habitat for for animals for wildlife. And then I and then I also mentioned canopy. So the canopy, canopy fires are basically in the tops of trees, is where that those occur? Yeah, that makes sense. Good call Jamie. Yeah, sometimes I get I forget, you know, but these, these terms are sort of jargony. So listener, your, I don't know if they'll, if I'll include this little my little speech here. But for the listeners out there. Bear with us. Cool. So if, if there, if there's anything else, I'll try to I'll try to keep that in mind. So I might interrupt folks if those things do come up in the future. So the next thing I wanted to talk about are just sort of the ins and outs of cutting your own Christmas tree for folks who maybe have never done it before. And so those might include how to get your permits or what are the rules and the etiquette and then just kind of things that you need. And I just from talking with you, Jen, I feel like you're the expert. Not just because it's your job but because you have experienced cutting the trees. So I was wondering so I will I'm just going to defer to you will tell us what to do when we're going to when we're going to cut around Christmas tree.

Jennifer Diamond:

First you're gonna want to find out I guess how to get how to get a permit. So you can go to forest products that blm.gov and search for Nevada and then the district that you choose to obtain a permit from. So first you get that permit. And then you you're going to want to Well first of all know that you can make that in Pine and junipers and then you know, pick an area that you want to go travel in and then know know what the weather forecast is like because you know, it's always a good idea when heading into the woods at any time of the year but especially in winter time to just know what that weather is going to be like and I know that I've ran into that a couple of times just trying to be the storm and trying to time it right so that I know that the roads are safe to travel on and I'm not going to be cutting a tree in a blizzard with a bunch of wind. So know the weather and I always pack you know I mean like you're going to be out in the cold. So I have a jacket, gloves. Tip typical winter clothing. I also bring Of course it's going to be probably a pretty long day so I bring Food and I bring water. Anytime you're operating some kind of saw or equipment, it's a good idea to have a first aid kit. And then once you cut your tree, you're going to need something to bring it home with and to secure it. So bring some type of heavy rope for tie downs to secure it in your vehicle. And also, when traveling on on dirt roads in the winter time, just I always like to bring a shovel, or even chains if you're going to need chains on your vehicle. Yeah, just just in case that the weather isn't exactly how you planned, but I try to kind of go around that storm if there is one.

Megan Kay:

Yeah, don't don't even risk it. Right.

Jennifer Diamond:

And yeah, just kind of know that some of those areas that you're used to seeing might be inaccessible by the time you choose to get out there. So it looks a little different after there's snow on the ground. Um, and then just once you're out there, and you do actually cut, the tree that you choose, the stumps cannot be any higher than six inches from the ground. And they should be cut level. So a lot of people like to maybe put a slash cut in it so that it's diagonals so that they can kind of push it over. And that's nice to get the tree on the ground. But after you do that, go back and cut it as close to the ground and as level and parallel to the ground that that you can and that's to avoid tripping hazards for the next person that's walking around out there. Just not nice to see something sharp sticking out of the ground like that.

Megan Kay:

Yeah. And especially if it's not then sort of blunt cut and it's just at a angle. It's just like a spike sticking out of the ground. Yeah, so yeah, not safe for the next person.

Jennifer Diamond:

Yeah. And then I always kind of look in the tree to make sure that there's not a nest or any little critters living in there. Yeah, don't want to take a home from something. And then once you do cut the tree and maybe there's some limbs or green branches that that you you don't want, you know on the bottom to stick it into your Christmas tree stand. Just make sure that you scatter those limbs around. Don't just pile them all in one area. It just kind of looks more natural. They're they're scattered out there.

Megan Kay:

Have you guys Jamie and Tessa, have you guys ever cut your own Christmas tree?

Tessa Putz:

No, but I can't wait to

Jamie Roice-Gomes:

Yeah, I have. But I've never cut it on BLM lands before I typically have gotten a US Forest Service permit. Because I want to get a fir to cut me. Yeah, me too.

Megan Kay:

I like I like pines, my family always got pine so so it's like it kind of makes sense that it's I guess it's your tastes you know? Do you guys have any? Do you have any tips? And Jamie any things that anything that came up from your experience that you think might be helpful for someone who's maybe trying it for the first time?

Jamie Roice-Gomes:

You know, I mean, it's, you're probably going to be going, you know, off roading and bring chains. If you have a truck. It's obviously easier than like a small SUV. I have a small SUV. And I I mean, I really want to truck because I really hate putting my Christmas tree on top of my small SUV. But it happens. You know, that's that's what we have. It's too we have so I just ensure to have you know, tie downs and bring boots and a coat. It's always colder than you think it's gonna be. No, yeah.

Jennifer Diamond:

Yeah, and if you do have to stick it inside your vehicle, it's pretty handy to have a sheet or a tarp or something to lay it on to kind of help with the SAP, the needles being in the SAP and just the mess that's left behind and to like yank it out

Megan Kay:

of there. As I say it's like a little bit of a tool to help you get it out of there.

Jennifer Diamond:

Yeah. And then Jamie mentioned roads and I just wanted to kind of highlight using the existing roads and well traveled roads. Not to create your own or to drive on one that maybe somebody else has created and it looks like a road. Because that just causes resource damage. And so just, you know, take a map or don't rely on GPS systems, but having them is handy to just help you out with what are those maintained roads? And what are the more well traveled roads? Jen, what? Like what time period does this Christmas tree permit program run? Yeah, so it is open now until December 24.

Megan Kay:

Okay, you want to get that last last last minute Christmas tree? Yeah. I mean, who knows? Like, you can think of many circumstances that that might happen. Yeah.

Jennifer Diamond:

Yeah. And also know that when you are out there, I mean, you do get your permit. There is a stipulation page and a permit that must be in the permit to possession while gathering and transporting the tree. So make sure that you attach that like, I think it's an adhesive permit to the tree so it can be seen by a person from outside of the vehicle.

Megan Kay:

Great tip. Yeah. Awesome. So I feel like if you know, I have all the knowledge I need now to go cut my Christmas tree for the first time. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing all your knowledge. Thank you, Tessa for joining us. And Jamie is always zero. Like always have the best questions. The things that I don't think of.

Jennifer Diamond:

I have a couple more Yes, but I just thought of the cost is $5 $5 $5 for that not bad. And then if you do choose to use a power saw make sure that you have a working spark arrestor it's required to have one and then just make sure that you if you have any garbage out there and bring a garbage bag with you so that you're not leaving behind any litter it must all be removed.

Megan Kay:

Yeah. And yeah, the spark arrestor it just makes me think of what we kind of talked about Off mic earlier about how it's still dry out there. Like we still we haven't had as much precipitation as I feel like people want so you know, keep in mind that the temperatures are still higher than normal and it is still dry in the there is still potential for sparking a wildfire when you got into the rangelands. Absolutely, yeah. Well, that's all I had. I'd like to thank you all for being here. And do you guys have anything else you'd like to add?

Jennifer Diamond:

No. Well, if you do go out there and get a Christmas tree you'll be sure to make a lot of memories because I know every single time I've gone it's a story to tell and it's quite an adventure. So bring a good attitude, you never know what's gonna happen.

Megan Kay:

Thank you for listening to the living with fire podcast. You can find more stories about wildfire and other resources at living with fire.com the living of fire program is funded by the University of Nevada, Reno extension, Nevada Division of Forestry Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service.