Be safe, prepared when cutting your own Christmas tree in a national forest

With the likelihood of new snow falling at higher elevations this week, this might be the time to head to the nearest national forest and cut your own Christmas tree.

Cutting your own tree on national forest land is both inexpensive and can be a fun family adventure — provided you follow some simple safety tips.

The U.S. Forest Service requires a permit to cut a tree, as it regulates the practice as an aid to forest thinning.

There are a number of restrictions when cutting trees on forest land. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, for example, is closed to tree cutting. Tree cutting also is prohibited in wilderness areas, developed campgrounds, administrative sites, within 300 feet of streams, on private or state-owned lands within national forest boundaries and in other posted areas.

Cutting on private lands is subject to trespass action. If you're unsure about areas available for tree cutting, contact the nearest Forest Service office.

Here is information on permit sales from the three national forests surrounding the South Sound:

GIFFORD PINCHOT: The $5 permits are now on sale. There is a limit of five permits per household. They are available at forest offices, which are closed Thursday, and vendors in the area. Info: fs.usda.gov/main/giffordpinchot/home.

MOUNT BAKER-SNOQUALMIE: Permits for trees 12 feet tall and less are $10. For taller trees, a $20 permit is needed. They are on sale at forest offices, including one in Enumclaw, as well as the Outdoor Recreation Information Center at the Seattle REI. Info: fs.usda.gov/main/mbs/home.

OLYMPIC: The $5 permits are available at forest offices, including the headquarters in Olympia and the Hood Canal Ranger District office in Quilcene. Info: fs.usda.gov/main/olympic/home.

As winter weather is in the forecast, conditions in the mountains can change quickly during a tree-cutting excursion. Here are some safety recommendations from forest managers:

•  Check the forest websites or call the forest office nearest your destination for the latest road and weather updates.

•  Be alert for unpredictable weather and hazardous driving conditions.

•  Arrive early at your cutting area. Remember, the sun sets early and it might take longer than anticipated to find a tree. Leaving early could help you avoid driving home in the dark.

•  Travel with a companion, and always tell another person when and where you plan to take a trip into a forest. Your cellphone might not get a signal, depending on where you are.

•  Remember to take your tree-cutting permit and a map of the location.

•  Fill your gas tank before leaving population areas.

•  Carry tire chains, a shovel, flashlights and a blanket in your vehicle.

•  Bring a rope and tarp to transport your tree to your home.

•  Bring extra food, water and hot beverages. Also bring extra clothing in case you get wet.