By Andrew Marshall

Residents from around the lake waited in line for as long as four hours last week to purchase Christmas tree permits from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), the division in charge of the National Forest that encircles Lake Tahoe.

Other locals opted out of permits entirely, unable with work or family commitments to make the drive to the South Lake Tahoe supervisor’s office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on a weekday. Many North Lake community members feel that in-person sales in South Lake put permits out of reach for those with inflexible jobs or family commitments.

“Because we have work, have kids, and other responsibilities, [we] don’t have time or a desire to drive to South Lake (or even line up locally),” said Jeff Ream, an Incline Village resident. Ream works in education, and taking the day off to wait in line for a permit was not an option.

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“My kids have to be in school by 8:15,” echoed Tahoe City attorney Kate Shaw. “So driving to South Lake Tahoe in time on a busy morning just isn’t feasible.”

The issues come on the heels of a move by the Forest Service to once again offer tree permits for the LTBMU in person as opposed to online through recreation.gov.

Online tree permits for the LTBMU sold out quickly in 2020 and 2021 — within minutes, according to residents who attempted to buy them. For many, the speed with which permits vanished in those years was just as much of a barrier to get one as this year’s in-person logistical issues are.

“I have bought permits previously from [a location in Tahoe City],” Shaw told Moonshine Ink. “It wasn’t even a process. I would just walk in and buy a permit for $10, and they were usually in stock for a few weeks after release. Over the past two years, they have sold out so quickly. 2019 [was] the last year we bought a Basin permit.”

DO IT RIGHT: In-person permitting allows the Forest Service to share important details such as that a tree should be cut from the base.

While most people Moonshine Ink spoke with took issue with the online system, not everyone found it so frustrating.

“[I] got on at the published time and purchased one. Just like any other online release,” Jeff Ream shared.

“Visitor feedback has been extremely positive,” Rick DeLappe, Recreation.gov Program Manager, said of the national program in a press release. “96% [of users] gave 4 or 5 stars of their experience.”

According to Charles Clark, a spokesman for the LTBMU, it was a desire to have one-on-one conversations with the public that motivated the move back from online to in-person sales. The change also slowed the rate at which the permits were purchased.

“Some things highlighted during those in-person conversations included details on this year’s locations for Christmas trees (which are different than previous years), how to cut trees while complying with the permit (e.g., tree size requirements, avoiding cutting only the tops of trees, and how to stay in public lands designated for tree cutting),” Clark clarified for Moonshine Ink in an email. “Another thing we highlighted was that permits are one per family, which was hard to enforce online, and by emphasizing this in person, we were able to ensure that a wider array of the public was able to get Christmas tree permits this year.”

Clark went on to say that the Forest Service is considering opening the South Lake Tahoe supervisor’s office earlier in the day next year to better accommodate people with weekday commitments. He added that selling permits on the north side of the lake will be assessed again.

And for those still interested in snagging a permit this year?

“As it turns out, we didn’t sell out of permits on Monday, and as of [Nov. 18], there are no lines, and still more than 300 permits left for anyone who still wants to get [one]  this year,” Clark said. Christmas tree permits for the LTBMU are $10.

The Forest Service began selling Christmas tree permits through Recreation.gov in 2020 as a response to Covid-19 restrictions. The pilot program comprised 19 National Forests, including the LTBMU. After what it considered a successful rollout, the Forest Service expanded the option during subsequent years. Permits cost anywhere from $5 to $20, depending on the area. The LTBMU is one of the few that went back to in-person sales this year.

Four National Forests exist in the North Lake Tahoe region:

The Tahoe National Forest encompasses an area to the northwest of the lake (including Truckee and surrounding communities), while the El Dorado National Forest lies directly to the west.

Parts of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest border the northeastern and eastern sections of the Basin. But the Basin itself lies with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, a special National Forest division created in 1973 to manage Lake Tahoe’s unique needs. The Tahoe National Forest, El Dorado National Forest, and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest all retained the online system in 2022. As of this writing, online permits are still available in Tahoe National Forest and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

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