Sustainable Travel for Christmas Trees (Hint: Your Local National Forest)

Luckily, there are Christmas tree farms, like Yule Tree Farms and Krueger's Christmas Trees, which sustainable travel writer Jennifer Stewart mentioned earlier this month. However, Christmas tree farms ship a high percentage of their trees, and it's better to get a tree off-the-farm, if possible. So, anyone lucky enough to live near a National Forest that allows Christmas tree cutting, would be better off finding a tree in the great wide open. Or, rather, the world would be better off if more people cut their own trees. That way, there's no shipping, and families can help aid forest growth.

Here's the thing: whether you purchase an artificial tree (shipped from China), or a real tree (shipped, most likely, from Oregon), trees aren't the greenest part of Christmas.  Studies show that artificial trees, in some cases, can cause major health risks to young children due a lead stabilizer. Another report showed that the PVC begins to degrade as Christmas trees age (uh oh). Also, in order for an artificial tree to leave the same environmental footprint as a real tree, a family needs to keep it for 20 years.

Real trees are carbon neutral, but they generate 3.1 kg of greenhouse gases each year (if they're purchased 5 km from home). Also, live Christmas trees require pesticides, irrigation and fertilizer while they're growing (for about a decade).  And, who buys the first tree they see? Finding a tree requires going from farm to farm, adding to the not-so sustainable travel component. Buying a living tree and replanting it (within 12 days) might be the way to go, but not that many people have the space or incentive to plant a tree.

So, then, what about the national forest? Not all national forests allow visitors to cut down Christmas trees, but many encourage it. It helps with the maintenance of the forest, and it may be better than prescribed burns.  (As you probably know, trees that are too close together are a fire hazard and need to be burned). In any case, if you live close to a national forest, going to get a tree is certainly a more sustainable travel option than getting one shipped from China.

Different kinds of Christmas trees can be cut in different forests in North America. In Colorado, you can typically take yellow-green lodgepole pine; in New Mexico, you can get any species of conifer; in Florida, you can get bushy sand pines. Of course, a tree from the forest will not be perfectly shaped. Sustainable travel for a Christmas tree will most certainly involve walking, perhaps in cold, deep snow.  However, searching for a Christmas tree in a national forest is an adventure, a memorable experience, and, it's a gift to the environment. So, dedicated greenies should purchase a permit and hit the forest for a Christmas tree.

Photo credit: Glennfcowan