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Buying Christmas tree permits online with Open Forest

Sometimes in our work, we have to see the trees for the forest, or about 6,000 trees to be precise. On November 19, 2018, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), in partnership with 18F, launched Open Forest, an online permit issuing system to help the Forest Service sell its Christmas tree permits. With Open Forest, you can easily go online during the holiday season, buy a permit for up to five trees, print out the permit at home, and go cut down your tree in a National Forest. Before Open Forest, there was no online purchasing option for these permits, limiting the public to buying permits at mostly remote USFS district offices or sometimes from local vendors during weekday business hours. From launch to the the end of the holiday season, Open Forest sold nearly 5,000 permits across the four pilot forests.

Though 18F has delivered many products to production since its founding in 2014, this is our first product to include payment functionality. Purchasers can use their credit card, debit card, or bank account number to pay for a permit through the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Pay.gov. Leveraging this existing service helped us implement a modular approach; our product team focused on the unique Christmas tree sale process, rather than reinventing how to make a secure payment. For the Forest Service staff in the district offices, it minimized the administrative burden of processing large sums of cash.

Why did we design and build a print-at-home solution rather than a mobile one? With limited cellular service and temperatures dropping below freezing that can quickly drain a mobile phone battery, a digital solution might not be that durable. USFS Law Enforcement also needs to be able to confirm legal purchase without pulling people over, so a print-at-home permit fit the broadest number of user needs. With print-at-home paper permits, law enforcement can spot them on the dash of a car at a distance, and the public doesn’t have to depend on cell service or their phone battery.

With the 2018 holiday season past, Open Forest will soon pilot its Special Use permits, which include outfitters and many non-commercial uses like weddings and other large-scale gatherings in a National Forest. The Special Use project will start with the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, and then scale to additional forests.

Check out Open Forest, or learn more about how our more than two year collaboration with USFS brought it to life.

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