Forest officials announced that the decades-old annual drawing for a Christmas tree-cutting tag on Arizona national forests has been completely eliminated, replaced by over-the-counter tag sales at selected Big 5 Sporting Goods stores, beginning Friday, Oct. 10.
Northern Arizona stores are in Flagstaff at 2775 Woodlands Village Blvd. (928-214-0590) or Prescott at 6106 Highway 69 in Prescott Valley (928-759-0013).
Tag prices are increased from $10 to $15 per tag this year, the first price increase in approximately 35 years. Program chairperson Candy Luhrsen says that the price of the tags has not kept pace with administrative costs for the program. "Now the program will pay for itself," she said.
This year there are 3,850 tags available for the Christmas tree-cutting program, down by 100 from last year.
Four national forests are providing tags to Big Five Sporting Goods for over-the-counter sales: the Apache-Sitgreaves NF has 2,100 tags available for all species in their tree-cutting areas. The Kaibab NF has 1,000 tags available for one cutting area (Tusayan ranger district) restricted to piñon or juniper. The Prescott NF offers 450 tags this year for any tree species in two recommended cutting areas. The Tonto NF has 300 tags for either piñon or juniper this year for one cutting area around Payson.
The Coconino NF will not be participating in the statewide program this year due to pine bark beetle tree mortality; however, they will be selling a limited number of tags locally over the counter.
The Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab national forests will also be selling tags over the counter.
Each forest should be contacted directly for further information about their over-the-counter tag sales. The following are their contacts:
Apache-Sitgreaves NF: 928-333-4301
Coconino NF: 928-527-3600
Kaibab NF: 928-635-5600 (Williams Ranger District)
For decades, customers obtained a tag application, filled it out, mailed it in by a specified deadline and waited several weeks to learn if they were successful in getting a tag for the preferred cutting area.
"Now, when the tags go on sale, a customer will walk into a local Big 5 Sporting Goods store and buy a tag for their preferred cutting area - or a second or third choice if the preferred area tags are sold out. Some families have a favorite cutting area and have returned there year after year," Luhrsen observed. "For some families, this very nostalgic tradition goes way, way back. I urge all who are interested to act quickly in purchasing at tag for their preferred cutting location."
"When the tags are gone, they're gone," cautioned Luhrsen.
There are no refunds once a tag has been purchased.
For more information about the program, visit the Tonto National Forest on the Web at www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto or call the Christmas Tree Hotline at 602-225-5258.