Parks Canada gives public free opportunity to harvest a Christmas tree while preventing wildfire threat

Parks Canada is encouraging the public to not only pick out a Christmas tree this winter, but to enjoy other activities such as snowshoeing. (Parks Canada/Submitted)

Community fuelbreak first developed in 2001

Parks Canada is allowing the public to harvest their own Christmas trees from the fuelbreak around the Waskesiu townsite in Prince Albert National Park.

This is the fourth year its offered the program, which is taking place from Dec. 1 to 24. Anyone wanting a tree is asked to go to the Visitor Centre for a free permit, where staff will give you a map showing where you can harvest.

“It’s been quite a popular program,” said Park Ecologist Dustin Guedo. He said the first year they gave out about 100 permits, with 205 the second year and 150 in the third.

Guedo explained they developed the community fuelbreak in 2001 to protect the townsite from possible threats of wildfire.

“We removed over 95 per cent of the conifer trees, so the spruce trees, jack pine, balsam fir—those are the ones that are most flammable in a forest fire. By removing those, it opens up and creates kind of an open green space, an open green belt, which is much less flammable and less likely to transfer embers and flames to the townsite,” he said.

“Conifer trees are much more flammable, especially in the summer, than deciduous trees because they’re needle trees,” he explained.

“Their needles contain a lot more oils and burn more readily as opposed to in the summer when you have an aspen or a birch tree with large leaves, which are more full of moisture and they can act more as a barrier in an event of a wildfire.”

While staff were removing the regenerating conifer trees several years ago, they noticed the sizes were perfect for Christmas.

“We came up with the idea that this would be a really good program where we could include families, people who enjoy coming to the park and give them the opportunity to come up, find a Christmas tree for themselves, have a good day within the park and also contribute to maintaining the fuel break.”

Guedo said they have trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing, and there’s still plenty of opportunities to see wildlife in the winter months. Additionally, some businesses remain open during the winter for lunch.

Parks Canada says you must access the trees by foot only, and cut using a handsaw or an axe. Chainsaws and all-terrain vehicles are not permitted.

It’s easiest to bring a sleigh to help you carry out your tree.

Parks Canada also suggests you wear winter boots, warm clothing and bring a first aid kit and an extra pair of dry mitts and socks.

The Visitor Centre is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.