By Paul Barnum - This year’s lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on Thursday holds special significance for Oregonians.
For just the second time in more than 50 years, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is an Oregon tree – a noble fir from one of Oregon’s 10 national forests.
Don’t confuse this tree with the National Christmas Tree that bedecks the White House lawn – the executive branch. Oregon’s noble fir, standing dignified on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, is the “People’s Tree,” symbolizing the federal legislators who represent the 325 million people living in these United States.
Oregon is the perfect parent of this year’s People’s Tree, with the state’s legacy of Tom McCall populism and rugged individualism, tempered by an historic willingness of its citizens to work together during tough times.
The 80-foot fir took a remarkable journey, a 3,000-mile Oregon Trail in reverse, under the banner “Find Your Trail.” The U.S. Forest Service, dozens of corporate sponsors and hundreds of volunteers made the trip possible.
Harvested in early November deep in the 1.5 million-acre Willamette National Forest, the tree was hoisted onto a donated flatbed truck and then trucked to 23 different locations along the route for community celebrations. In addition to the single noble, 70 smaller “companion” trees from Oregon commercial tree growers were shipped east to adorn legislative and administrative offices.
The Capitol Tree always comes from one of our country’s 154 national forests. That this year’s companion trees come from Oregon commercial operations highlights the state’s niche as the nation’s No. 1 Christmas tree grower. According to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, Oregon produced 5.2 million Christmas trees in 2016. North Carolina came next with 3.5 million. Oregon’s dedicated growers and world-class tree-growing climate will ensure that we maintain our top spot.
The gift of a noble fir is an iconic symbol of what former SOLVE Executive Director Jack McGowan often described as “this treasure we call Oregon.” We treasure the state’s abundant green forests for the commodities, water, wildlife and sanctuary they provide. We cherish the clean air provided by Oregon’s forested landscapes, and we take comfort that forest owners and managers are managing for sustainability and the long-term.
In the lead-up to selecting, harvesting and transporting Oregon’s tree to the Capitol, Gov. Kate Brown held a contest asking fourth-grade students to write letters about what they love about Oregon’s outdoors. Brigette Harrington from Hillsboro wrote the winning article, selected from more than 1,200 entries. The win earned Harrington an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in the tree-lighting ceremony.
Brigette’s poem, based on the Christmas tale, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Moore, best sums up the shared love for our beloved state.
It’s time to cut our Christmas tree, we’ve got to find the right one,
Can’t wait to get it home inside, all decorated and done!
So, as I close my eyes for sleep, my heart holds memories dear,
Thinking of my home, our state, my Oregon, how glad I’m here.
-- Paul Barnum is a fifth-generation Oregonian, the former president of SOLVE and past chair of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.