In this November 2016 file photo, a peak in the Chugach Mountains looms above a spruce forest near Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Public lands open for Christmas tree cutting

With Thanksgiving over and the floodgates officially open for Christmas décor, many people will be looking for that perfect spruce tree for their living rooms.

The Kenai Peninsula is covered in forest, much of which is evergreen spruce. Most of it is federally managed public land, too, on which managers allow people to come and select a Christmas tree for themselves. The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Chugach National Forest both allow people to come and cut down their own tree for free without a permit, with a limit of one per household.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which surrounds the central peninsula communities and stretches westward to the Russian River, opens to tree cutting Thursday and closes Christmas Day, according to a Nov. 21 press release from the refuge. The areas are road-accessible along the Sterling Highway, Skliak Lake Loop Road, Funny River Road and Swanson River Road.

A few ground rules apply, though, including trimming the stumps as close to the ground as possible.

“Trees are free for personal use with a limit of one per household, and may not be taller than 20 feet,” the release states. “Trees may be taken anywhere on the Refuge with hand tools, except within 150 feet of a road, lake, stream, trail, campground or picnic area. No tree cutting is permitted in the Refuge Headquarters/Vicitor Center area and along Ski Hill Road.”

In the Chugach National Forest, which covers the eastern half of the Kenai Peninsula between Turnagain Arm and the Russian River, all areas are open to Christmas tree cutting except the Turnagain Pass between just north of the rest area and the Bertha Creek Campground at mile 65.5 of the Seward Highway and the Portage Valley between the Seward Highway and Portage Lake, according to a Nov. 17 announcement from the Chugach National Forest.

The forest has similar ground rules to the refuge, but the distance required from the road is further — at least 150 yards, or 450 feet. Trees cannot be sold, bartered or used in any commercial-type exchange and cannot be felled into streams or other bodies of water. The forest service also asks people to cut trees as close to the ground as possible and not lop off the top sections of trees “in order to get the good parts,” according to the Chugach National Forest’s website.

“Select your tree thoughtfully, to avoid leaving unsightly bare spots in the forest,” the website states.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough also allows tree cutting on borough land for casual use between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, with a limit of one per person, stumps cut as close to the ground as possible and on vacant borough land not for sale, not occupied by another use and not currently lease or permitted to another user, according to a list of guidelines on the borough’s website. Tree cutting is only allowed with tools that don’t disturb the ground surface or create trails and does not “create a hazard or disturbance to another user, adjacent property, travel ways or utility lines.”

The Chugach National Forest cautions people to be sure they are on forest land before cutting trees. The U.S. Forest Service and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge provide maps of their land, and records of borough land are available on the borough’s online parcel viewer.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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