Cutting down a Christmas tree can be good for the environment.
The centerpiece for home holiday decorating could cost next to nothing if you live near a national forest and are willing to do some heavy lifting.
The U.S. Forest Service is encouraging Americans to cut down their Christmas trees at a nearby federally protected forest, and in a majority of participating locations, all it will cost is a mere $5 or $10 for a permit.
Cutting down Christmas trees actually improves forest health, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The permit system, offered at dozens of national forests throughout the country, helps to thin densely populated areas of small-diameter trees and allows other trees to grow larger, opening areas that provide forage for wildlife and reduce wildfire danger.
In untouched foliage, natural selection causes trees to grow smaller and closer together, Jill Sidebottom, seasonal spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, told ABC News. The trees "compete" with each other for resources, including sunlight and water.
Cutting them down allows better growth for the trees that remain and builds resiliency to threats such as insects and disease, Sidebottom said.
If you're tight on a budget, come over here and get you a Christmas tree.Jared Nobles of Ocala National Forest
Trees cut from the forest would likely be more "open," allowing for more ornament placement, because they are not being sheared and packaged throughout the commercial process, Sidebotto said.
The areas that would most benefit from thinning trees, which tend to house trees the "perfect size for Christmas," are pre-determined by local forest health experts, according to the Forest Service. The type of trees available depends on the forest of choice.
At Ocala National Forest in Florida, sand pine trees are the species that need to be thinned out, Jared Nobles, district silviculturist for Ocala National Forest, told ABC News.
About 306,000 permits have been sold annually since sales began on Recreation.gov in 2020, according to the Forest Service. The average number of permits sold in 2018 and 2019 was about 240,000. Most of the holiday tree permits are issued in November.
It was once a common occurrence for Americans living in rural areas to venture into a nearby forest to cut down a Christmas tree, prior to the evolution of the modern Christmas tree industry in the mid-20th century, Sidebottom said.
The tradition also connects people to their local forests, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Nobles described the act of finding and cutting a tree as an "adventure."
"If you're tight on a budget, come over here and get you a Christmas tree," Nobles said.
Each year, the Christmas tree displayed at the U.S. Capitol is cut from a national forest.
This year's U.S. Capitol tree originated from Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia.
The permits serves as an alternative to purchasing a tree from a stand or tree farm, some of which across the country are experiencing shortages.
ABC News' Daniel Manzo, Daniel Peck and Ginger Zee contributed to this report.