By Robert Lucke
There are some people who around this time of year get a sudden urge to get on out to the Bear Paw Mountains and get a fresh tree to use for Christmas.
Reasons for this idea include the following. A Bear Paw tree is less expensive than a fresh tree purchased in Havre. This is normally true but it can backfire on the tree chopper. A Bear Paw tree is normally more fresh than a boughten one. Normally true. A Bear Paw tree is more beautiful than a purchased tree. Definitely not true. The Bear Paw Mountains have millions of trees to spare. Not true. This is a splendid opportunity for a great Christmas family outing. Probably true but this as well can backfire.
Points to remember while getting a Bear Paw Christmas tree are numerous. Bear Paw trees are notorious for being very much less than perfect. Often they have only one bushy side, often they are double trunked trees and very often only the top fifteen feet of a seventy foot tree will be any good for use in the home.
Not only that but Bear Paw trees can not be cut just anywhere. First, remember that there are few trees to begin with so finding a north slope with a fir forest on it is not easy. Than too remember that trees cannot be cut in Beaver Creek Park and cut only with a permit in the adjoining Rocky Boy Recreation area. That makes for cutting to be done on private land. When cutting on private land, always know whose tree it is that is being cut and that permission has been given to cut a tree in the first place.
There is an old wives tale about cutting trees that goes something like this. If you cut a tree and leave the bottom two or three branches, it will still continue to grow so a tree really has not been harvested at all. That is true in many cases. The only problem is that with slow growing Bear Paw trees, often twenty years later, there are still just the bottom branches growing. No new growth has happened at all.
Bear Paw tree cutting can be a fun experience for the family but be aware of several hindrances. First, cutting down a tree is not as easy as it looks on the drawing board. Often finding a good tree requires a walk of miles and miles. Good house trees are not prevalent in the Bear Paws. Then too it is strenuous work. More than one family has gone out tree hunting and come back to the hospital with father having serious chest pains. Taking the wrong vehicle can be very expensive as well. By the time that annual "hunt" comes around, there is usually snow and often the best trees are far up unplowed roads. Getting up those unplowed roads can lead to extreme stuck situations and very expensive wrecker calls and or burned up motors. All this can make a purchased tree to look very inexpensive indeed.
Another danger of getting your own tree in Bear Paw woods is the height of shapely parts of trees. True, a good climber not afraid of heights can scale easily to the required cutting area of a tree and drop the beautiful part of the tree in jig time. However, this more often than not leads to procuring a ruined tree anyway. Often in dropping the tree to the ground a "main" branch is mysteriously broken or often in cold weather a drop to the ground will produce a tree without a single needle. Not only that but more than once a needless tree went right along with a drop by the cutter as well, leading to a broken leg and a purchased new tree after all was said and done. Couple that with a new motor for the family outfit and maybe it would be better to just buy a fresh tree in the first place.