Add to holidays' joy with a wild tree

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MK Thompson/San Juan Mountains Association White fir trees are abundant in San Juan National Fore

The time of year has come to begin thinking about Christmas trees. Not everyone cares about this topic, but for those who do, it can be very serious.

Fir trees tend to be a popular choice because of their "friendly" nature, meaning they are soft to the touch. Spruce trees also make a beautiful tree, but their spikey needles make them less popular. There also are a few types of pines to choose from.

WHY REAL TREES?

Whether you cut your own tree or buy one, there are environmental benefits to artificial trees. While an artificial tree can be reused again and again, they typically are made from plastic and aluminum that cannot be recycled and may not have been manufactured with environmental standards in mind.

A real tree from a farm has been sustainably grown with up to three new seedlings planted for that which was harvested. It puts valuable oxygen into the air during its lifespan. Cutting your own tree on public lands thins the forest and can help other trees grow healthier by reducing competition for nutrients. It also can reduce the fuel load for wildfires.

CUT YOUR OWN

Christmas tree cutting permits from San Juan National Forest now are available. There are several types of lovely conifers available in the forest.

One of the most popular trees is the white fir. White firs are abundant at mid elevations and are fragrant with a full crown. As with all firs, the needles are flat and attach individually to the branch. SJNF also encourages thinning this species for forest health.

Colorado's state tree, the blue spruce, is another option. Spruce needles are square and can be rolled between your fingers. The beautiful bluish hue of this tree makes a lovely contrast against festive decorations. However, this tree's spikey needles may not be suitable for young children or pets.

Use good judgment when cutting your own tree and abide by all regulations. Be sure to cut the tree as close to the ground as possible leaving no more than a 6-inch stump. You may have to bring a shovel to dig through the snow to the ground. Do not leave any live branches on the stump or disfigure trees by cutting just the crown.

BUY FROM A LOT

There are options for trees not native to Colorado when buying a precut tree at a lot.

One popular tree is the Scotch pine. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, it is the most common Christmas tree in the U.S. The needles are about 1 inch long, and, like all pines, the needles are bundled. It is grown on farms in the U.S. because of its ideal qualities as a Christmas tree, such as the fact that the needles do not tend to fall off when the tree dries out.

Another common tree is the Nordmann fir. This fir is found in many parts of Europe and is not native to the U.S. Like the Scotch pine, the needles do not tend to fall off when the tree dries out.

One place to see the Nordmann fir will be at the Silver Bells Trees for Conservation lot at 2977 Main Ave. in Durango starting Nov. 29.

SJMA will provide education about the trees, and sales will benefit our conservation education program. Nature-related crafts for kids will be offered from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 and 14. Free Smokey Bear ornaments will be available with the purchase of a tree while supplies last.

However you choose your Christmas tree this year, have fun and be safe.

MK Thompson is education and program assistant for San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public land stewardship and education.