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Family tree tradition

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ASHLAND — Far up Tolman Creek Road in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the Howe family Christmas tree hunt played out true to tradition.

Gabe and Jill Howe woke their slumbering kids, Azalea and Carter, and set off to find the family Christmas tree for their Ashland home. They drove up Tolman Creek Road in their SUV until the snow made Gabe Howe nervous.

“Then we pull the car over and walk as far as the kids will tolerate and try to get a tree that’s somewhat symmetrical and will look good in our house,” he says. “If you can find one of these Shasta firs, those are ideal because they’re dense. But we’ll probably end up with a white fir.”

Be it a Shasta or a white fir, the family tree is always that much better when you cut it yourself on a forest foray.

More than 7,000 families trek into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest each year to cut their own Christmas trees between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, making it the second-most visited forest in the Pacific Northwest by those with yuletide intentions.

And it’s easier to do this year than ever before.

The Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest is one of 13 Pacific Northwest forests participating in a pilot program that sells the $5 permits online so tree-hunters don’t have to go to a Forest Service office during business hours or visit a local store for permits.

The permits are available through the forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/rogue-siskiyou/, and despite little roll-out they have proven popular to a point where they appear to be helping the forest vastly eclipse its typical tree-hunting traffic.

As of Dec. 10, the forest had sold nearly 8,500 permits for this year, of which 1,685 of them were sold online, Forest Service data show. A deeper look into those online sales reveals that 969 — or 57 percent — were downloaded during weekends or holidays when Forest Services offices were closed.

“I think it’s really important for people to be able to connect with us when they need us, and this is a simple solution to do that,” says forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer. “We’re providing a service on the weekend when we didn’t used to.”

The online service, however, does not help those with fourth-graders with an Every Kid Outdoors pass, which gets them and their families access to Forest Service parks and other fee-use areas, including a free Christmas tree permit.

As of Dec. 10, just 48 free permits had been issued, Kramer says.

“The problem now is that kids are still in school,” Kramer says. “By the time parents can get their kids out of school and to us, we’re closed.”

Kramer hopes future editions of the online pass will somehow allow kids with these passes to get tree permits over the Internet, she says.

Regardless of where families get their permits, the method for channeling your inner Griswold to get the family tree is about as basic now as it has been for decades.

Pile the clan into the family truckster — and don’t forget the saw, Clark — and follow the online map that comes with a permit to recommended places to cut trees.

Most areas are open except for national monuments and tree plantations, as well as trees within 150 feet of a state highway and within 300 feet of a stream or lake.

Then there’s the rule of 12. Only cut a tree that’s within 12 feet of another tree, cut only trees under 12 feet tall, and leave stumps no more than 12 inches tall.

The Howe clan kept to their plan, hiking along a trail in search of the elusive Shasta fir until Carter had his fill.

“Can we go now?” he says.

And that led to another tradition.

“You know what?” Howe says. “The best trees we’ve seen are those right next to the car.”

So they traipsed back through the snow to a patch of white firs within a third-grader’s snowball-tossing distance from the car.

Howe, who is executive director of the Siskiyou Mountain Club and is well schooled in the world of saws, made a stump in no time, then hauled the tree up to the road and presented it — all 10 feet of it — to his family.

“That’s too small,” Azalea says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Rye Rilling with his Christmas tree cut on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
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