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Christmas tree cutting open in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Sabine Poux

On Thanksgiving day, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge opened to those hoping to chop down their own Christmas Tree.

Until Christmas day, anyone can head out to the Refuge and cut down their own holiday tree, entirely for free. Households are limited to one tree each, and cannot take a tree taller than 20 feet.

“I know in my family, the preference is to go out and harvest a Christmas tree and bring it home, and I know it’s something that means a lot to a lot of folks,” Refuge Manager Andy Loranger said.

Loranger said the tradition sees a lot of participation, on the Kenai and beyond.

“We really don’t have an exact count or anything, I know it’s fairly popular, and quite a few folks here locally will take advantage, but we’ve even heard of folks coming down from Anchorage,” he said.

Loranger couldn’t say for sure whether tree cutting at the refuge is more sustainable than buying one from the store, but did say the trees available in the refuge aren’t put at any risk by being harvested for Christmas.

“Certainly, most of the trees, commercially, come from commercial operations that are growing trees specifically to cut,” he explained. “And the vast majority of tree cutting on the refuge is going to be white or black spruce, and those are both species that are going to be very common here, so there aren’t any issues from that standpoint.”

The trees can only be harvested with hand tools, like a hatchet, ax or handsaw. They can be taken from anywhere in the refuge, except for within 150 feet of a road, lake, stream, trail, campground or picnic area. They also cannot be cut down in the Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center area. Loranger said this is just for aesthetic reasons.

He says tree-cutters over the years have been respectful of the regulations.

Riley Board is a Report For America corps member covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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