It is now past Thanksgiving, and it is time to get that Christmas tree up once again. Whether it's fake or real, it's a Christmas tradition. Santa needs to have a place to leave presents for good little boys and girls and some naughty ones too.

Many years ago, I tried a "real" Christmas tree. Unfortunately, it didn't go so well. Apparently you are supposed to give them water on a regular basis, but I didn't see that with the directions. Oh wait, there's the problem ... it didn't come with directions. So, after Christmas when I went to move it, all of the needles fell off and stuck into the carpet. Boy, that was fun picking up all those stuck-in needles.

Speaking of "real" Christmas trees, did you know that the U.S. Forest Service allows you to cut your own tree from the national forest for only $5?

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I discuss the USFS Christmas tree program.

HISTORY

The history of Christmas trees takes its roots from the use of evergreens in ancient Egypt and Rome and continued with the German tradition of bringing candle lit Christmas trees to America in the 1800's.

This German Christmas tree tradition, as most of us follow now, started in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. When trees or wood were not readily available, people would build Christmas pyramids of wood and decorate them with evergreens and candles.

Speaking of "candle lit" trees, it reminds me of how we have progressed on tree lighting. Remember the good old days when one light went out, and they all went out. It's a great feeling that we don't have to deal with that issue anymore when putting up the tree.

THE USFS TREE PROGRAM

Every holiday season, the USFS offers an alternative service for obtaining a "real" Christmas tree versus getting one from a u-cut tree farm or tree lot. With a special permit you can cut your own tree from the national forest (not to be confused with the state forest). In Lake County we have the Huron-Manistee Forest that gives you the opportunity to do this.

There are advantages to cutting down your own tree, as in the fun of selecting your own unique and special tree, the time with family trying to locate one and an opportunity to explore the national forest.

OBTAINING A PERMIT

Permits are available now and may be purchased online at recreation.gov or in person at the Huron-Manistee ranger station. Permits cost $5, with a limit of three permits per household. Remember your permit must be on your tree prior to cutting it down and any tree taken from the national forest cannot be sold.

KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES

There are certain boundaries for tree harvesting. In general, trees cannot be harvested within a certain distance of roads, lakes or designated recreation areas, such as campsites, tree plantations and timber areas; or, of course, from adjacent private property. Here are a few guidelines:

• Do not cut within private land, in wilderness areas, experimental forests, or existing tree plantations.

• Do not cut within active timber sales or areas that have been planted with new trees.

• Do not cut trees within 100 feet of water bodies, campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads or other developed recreation areas.

• Do not cut trees within 100 feet of paved roads and 50 feet from dirt roads.

TREE RESTRICTIONS

All harvested trees must be under 20 feet tall. Don't lop off the top of a tall tree — you must take the entire tree.

Cut close to the ground to leave as little stump as possible. If snow is on the ground, remove it from around the stump so you can accurately measure the stump and tree height. Digging up a tree is not allowed.

All conifers that meet the size and location restrictions are available for harvesting. Also, try to stay away from the "Charlie Brown" style tree, so your friends and family won't pick on you.

WATCH OUT FOR WILDLIFE

Once you've located your tree, check it to make sure there aren't any bird nests or wildlife taking shelter within its branches. There are also some insects that burrow or attach themselves to branches that start hatching when brought into warmer temperatures. Also, do not take a tree from a forest that is further away. This will help on curbing the threat of invasive species to the area.

REAL OR FAKE & POSITIVE IMPACT

Real or Fake: Which Christmas tree is better for the environment? Short answer — real!

First off, real trees don’t require the intensive carbon emissions that it takes to produce and ship artificial trees. Artificial trees are usually not recyclable and often end up in landfills.

Real trees help fight climate change, and even though your Christmas tree is cut down, you’re actually supporting the forest. When these natural trees are harvested for sale, there are more than ten times the same tree left standing.

Science shows that one of the best ways to protect the forest is to use it — carefully. When our forests are responsibly managed, they can produce renewable resources, like more Christmas trees and other wood-made products.

CHRISTMAS TREE TRIVIA

• Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850.

• In 1979, the National Christmas Tree was not lighted except for the top ornament. This was done in honor of the American hostages in Iran.

• A fishing schooner called the "Christmas Tree Ship" would travel from Michigan to Chicago and sell spruce Christmas Trees. It sank in 1912 (the same year the Titanic sank), with Captain Santa at the helm.

• The tallest living Christmas tree is believed to be the 122-foot, 92-year-old Douglas fir in the town of Woodinville, Washington.

• The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition began in 1933. Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, brought the Christmas tree tradition to the White House.

• In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.

• Since 1966, the National Christmas Tree Association has given a Christmas tree to the president and first family.

• Most Christmas trees are cut weeks before they get to a retail outlet.

• In 1912, the first community Christmas tree in the United States was erected in New York City.

• Christmas trees generally take six to eight years to mature.

• The Fraser fir is the most popular Christmas tree because of its ideal full shape. With soft, inch-long needles and firm branches capable of holding heavy ornaments, the spaces between the branches make it easy to decorate.

• Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states including Hawaii and Alaska.

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excepts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.