The weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday has always marked a prized tradition in my parents’ house: Christmas tree hunting.

When I got married I would drag my husband down our local Forest Service Ranger Station to purchase a tree tag, and we’d go on the annual tree hunt whenever possible.

We always enjoyed ourselves. The fresh blanket of snow, clean mountain air, and sharp smell of tree sap on our fingers made up for our wet pants and frozen toes.

That was before the great shift happened. One particularly snowy Christmas tree hunt, I found the perfect tree, a white fir that stood around 7 feet tall and was coated in a fresh dusting of glittering snow. The branches were full and perfectly spaced and begged to be adorned with ornaments. My husband took a saw to its base and it happened. I felt guilty – stone-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach guilty. I was depriving a tree of its full, majestic life. Normally it would still be looking out over the forest long after I was gone, but I had killed it for my holiday celebration. We took it home, but the holiday just wasn’t the same, and every Thanksgiving since I’ve made sure my weekend held no room for the family tree hunt.

I’ve recently had a change of heart. While browsing the Living With Fire website (LivingWithFire.info), I came across a fact sheet that articulates the benefits of tree thinning. While one part of the paper addresses tree thinning around the home (good information for people with big trees on their properties), the other part addresses forest health. There were a lot of points to sell me on the idea of tree thinning, but there was one that stood out in particular: tree thinning is helpful for reducing wildfire threat. Thinner tree stands means less fuel so that a fire won’t burn so intensely. It also means that fire will stay closer to the ground so that the big, healthy trees won’t catch easily. Read the paper here.

Understanding how Christmas tree cutting allows predetermined areas to be thinned for the betterment of the forest has eased my guilty conscience greatly.

This year’s tree hunt was one of my favorites yet. My tree is stunning, and the forest we left behind will be healthier and will hopefully fare better in a wildfire, thanks to our family tradition.

Happy Holidays!

Natalie Newcomer