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Give your living room a bit of wild at Christmas: Kenai Wildlife Refuge begins annual free tree offer

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008

One of the advantages to living in a place like Alaska is the opportunity it offers its residents to harvest the bounty of the land and sea.

For many this means enjoying fresh fish, game and wild berries as part of their regular diet. A less seldom considered advantage however, is the superabundance of Christmas trees blanketing the land.

Well maybe they're not really just Christmas trees, but there's no reason that any of the white or black spruce in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge wouldn't make cheap alternatives.

The refuge opened Tuesday to Christmas tree cutting and remains so until Dec. 25. Any household is allotted one tree from the refuge, given that the tree is not located within 150 feet of a road, campground, picnic area lake, stream or trail head. Additionally, cutting is not allowed within the park headquarters area off of Ski Hill Road in Soldotna. While any tree may be taken, the refuge asks that stumps be cut as low to the ground as possible.

Doug Staller, deputy manager at the refuge, offered a few pieces of practical advice when choosing a tree.

Though there are two species of coniferous trees, or evergreens, on the refuge, white and black spruce, he said the white spruce would generally make the most ideal holiday tree.

"Typically people would cut white spruce because they'll make a nicer formed tree. The black spruce are scraggly looking and wouldn't make a good Christmas tree," he said.

Staller said white spruce are typically found at higher, dryer elevations while the black are found down low in or on the outskirts of swamps.

No one wants a mess in their living room from an unhealthy tree. Staller recommended examining the needles and performing a "pinch test."

"Look for nice fresh green tips on the needles," He said. "You should be able to pinch them in your fingers and they'll bounce back pretty quickly."

Staller admitted that though his wife mentioned it, he wasn't sure if he'd be going out on foot to harvest a wild tree or sticking with an artificial one.

Getting started

* Harvesting your own tree -- One tree per household, must not be within 150 feet (50-70 walking strides) of waterways, roads, campgrounds, picnic areas or trail heads.

Closest area to Soldotna:

Travel out Funny River Road past the Soldotna Airport. Look for the refuge boundary sign; at this point a tree may be taken for six miles anywhere right of the road.

Closest area to Sterling:

Travel out Swanson River Road until you see the refuge boundary sign near Mosquito Lake (Mile 7.6). Trees may be taken north of this point or east on Swan Lake Road.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com



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