Chop, chop, timber: National Park encourages residents to pick the perfect Christmas tree at annual harvest

Day 1: Adam Buettner & Family (Christmas Tree Harvest, Snowshoeing, Enclosed Kitchen Shelter)

Families searching for the perfect Christmas tree still have a chance to find it, while also helping reduce the forest fire risk at Prince Albert National Park.

The park will host their eighth annual Christmas Tree Harvest until Dec. 23. The harvest allows residents to visit the Waskesiu Community Fuel Break area where they can cut down a Christmas tree of their choice, free of charge.

Prince Albert National Park ecologist Dusty Guedo said they issue an average of 150-200 tree harvest permits every year, but they’re hoping to increase that number in 2023.

“The weather has been really nice (and) the snow has been low,” Guedor said during a phone interview on Monday. “We know that Christmas trees are a little harder to come by this year, so we’re really encouraging people to come up and experience the park in the winter time at this point, to come out and get themselves a tree.”

Park officials first created the Waskesiu Community Fuel Break area in the early 2000s. Their goal was to remove really flammable trees like White Spruce, Jack Pine, and Balsam Fir while leaving a buffer of broadleaf trees like aspen and birch, which don’t burn as easily.

In recent years, Guedo said, park officials noticed many of the pine trees were at exactly the right height to serve as Christmas trees. They stared encouraging residents to drive out and cut down their own.

Guedo and his family have harvested a tree every year. He said it’s a great opportunity to get outdoors with his three kids.

“I really engage with them, (and) make sure this is the tree that they want,” he said. “I cut it down, and that’s our tree for the holidays.

“We’re encouraging families to come to the park, look around the park, have a really nice day of it, and go out and cut themselves the Christmas tree,” Guedo added. “In doing so, they get a really nice Christmas tree for themselves, and they’re also helping the park maintain this fuel break around the town site for fire management.”

The summer of 2023 was one of the busiest in Canadian wildfire history. Guedo said members of the park’s fire management program were dispatched to the Northwest Territories, which saw record temperatures combined with severe drought through the summer and fall.

The territory declared a state of emergency on Aug. 15. At the time, they had reported 265 wildfires, will above the 10-year average of 185.

Guedo said the park has a strong, experienced fire management crew, and they’re taking the possibility of another busy wildfire season very seriously.

“The fact that we’re in an El Nino situation and knowing that conditions may be dry in the spring is something we take very seriously,” he said. “We’re always on the forefront of making sure we have our firefighter staff experienced and staffed up and doing things like maintaining our fuel break, making sure our firefighters are staffed and well-trained, and just making sure that we’re ready for anything that comes.”

Resident planning on cutting down a Christmas tree from the fuel break area should visit the Prince Albert National Park visitor centre to receive a permit. Visitor centre staff will be on hand to answer any questions and direct visitors to the parts of the fuel break that need thinning out.

Residents can cut down the tree free of charge.