Move over, Charlie Brown. Trade your traditional evergreen Christmas tree for a juniper tree from Colorado’s Eastern Plains

Courtesy Southern Plains Land Trust
Junipers dot the landscape of the Heartland Ranch Preserve in Bent County.

Move over, Charlie Brown.

This time of year, national forests in Colorado open up portions of the land for harvesting Christmas trees. But one conservation group in southern Colorado is encouraging something a little different this year – a juniper tree.

The rolling grasslands on Colorado's Eastern Plains are dotted with mesas, and on them grow juniper trees.

"And that's normal," said Judith Westveer. 

Westveer is the assistant director of the Southern Plains Land Trust, a conservation group that manages thousands of acres of shortgrass prairie, including the Heartland Ranch Nature Preserve in Bent County. 

"We're managing grasslands," she said. "And grasslands by nature are open areas without a lot of trees."

But the junipers, she said, are marching down the mesas and growing where they historically hadn't before.

Courtesy Southern Plains Land Trust
Jay Tutchton, preserve manager with the Southern Plains Land Trust, cuts a juniper.

"Because we don't have a lot of ecological balance anymore, we don't have grazers anymore, there are not a lot of natural fires anymore, these junipers are kind of encroaching onto the prairie," she said. "Which means the grasslands are slowly turning into a forest-like habitat."

It's common practice in conservation to cut down the junipers that don't belong, according to Westveer. 

"And I thought, well, Christmas is coming up, why not have a juniper tree in your house instead of a Christmas tree? Because they're beautiful. They smell really nice, they're about the size of a Christmas tree. It's like a win-win."

The trust is offering juniper trees that the group is cutting from the Heartland Ranch Nature Preserve to anyone on the Front Range, and will even deliver them. They're asking for a $100 donation to help cover labor and gas.

Courtesy Judith Westveer/Southern Plains Land Trust
Judith Westveer's juniper Christmas tree. Westveer is assistant director of the Southern Plains Land Trust.

Westveer said as of mid-week, they've sold a few. But she said some people have suggested the group should start earlier in the season, which she said she plans to do next year. 

"The juniper trees are not as symmetrical or perfectly shaped as a store-bought Christmas tree," she said. "But you can definitely hang some ornaments."

Westveer said after Christmas, the juniper wood can be used for firewood. "Just let it dry out for a couple of weeks and throw it in your wood-burning stove."

The preserve added some bison to the area a number of years ago, which Westveer said is part of the conservation strategy they prefer–increasing native grazers. But their goal through their work is to ultimately gain ground for prairie wildlife.

Interested in your own juniper Christmas tree? Email [email protected].