16 Nov The 2021 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree
This weekend I will be in Washington D.C. to deliver and photograph my seventh U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. As one of the greatest honors of my life, each year I am tasked to tell the story of the United States Forest Service and its efforts to protect and preserve our natural resources through the harvest and transport of a tall evergreen tree from one of the 154 national forests to our nation’s capital. Known as the People’s Tree this majestic conifer stands as a monument to our shared heritage as stewards of our public land as well as a symbol of the values we share in common as a united community.
Nicknamed Sugar Bear (long story), the 2021 People’s Tree is a 71-year-old, 84-foot-tall White Fir cut down in the Six Rivers National Forest on the Northern Coast of California. Ordered by United States the House of Representatives (Not the President of the United States) the People’s Tree is delivered to the U.S. Capitol Building (Not the White House) for the enjoyment of the American People. Sugar Bear was harvested on public land with the blessing of native people and brought to our nation’s capital by the dedicated men and women who protect and preserve our natural resources every day.
Raised in a region of our country devastated by wild fires, Sugar Bear is a demonstration of the fortitude and resilience of not only our natural resources, but the thousands of firefighters who put their lives on the line to defend vast stands of trees as well as countless homes and businesses. Though it is critical to protect our forests from fire, a big part of conscientious landscape management and conservation is the periodic removal of trees. The harvest of Sugar Bear makes room for new growth and helps to assure the overall health of the forest.
The transportation of the People’s Tree to Washington D.C. is a long and complicated process that includes bringing the story of the Six Rivers National Forest to American public. For more than three weeks a team of Forest Service professional have visited communities large and small throughout the state of California and across the nation to share the beauty and wonder of the North Coast Region. The people we meet throughout our tour are invited to sign the enormous banner that stands the length of an 80-foot trailer hauled by a tractor provided by the Kenworth Truck Company piloted by drivers from Systems Transportation. As often as twice each day on our tour a team of interpreters set up an interactive display that details the flora, fauna and culture that makes the Six Rivers districts so unique.
As we make our way along the highways of America we are also accompanied by none other than the Forest Service mascot Woodsy Owl. This year the beloved character is celebrating his 50th Birthday as he spreads his message of environmental protection and stewardship with his new slogan “Lend a Hand. Care for the land.”
Escorted by professional law enforcement officers across many different state and federal jurisdictions (many of whom are military veterans) the People’s Tree is paid for with a combination of both private and non-profit contributors. No tax dollars, except for the salaries of Forest Service employees, are used in this undertaking.
This year at almost every stop on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Tour we are greeted by a U.S. Forest Service honor guard. These dedicated men and women arrive in their dress green uniforms and flat hats to add a bit of pageantry and ceremony to our celebrations. Most often though they present the colors at the funerals and remembrances of foresters and firefighter who have passed away or fallen in the line of duty. After two horrific wild fire seasons in California it is now more important than ever to acknowledge the sacrifices of those who protect the natural resources and recreation areas on public land that we all love.
One of the most common questions we are asked is “Why do you put all that effort into driving a tree across the country?”. On our way out of Springfield, Missouri, The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree paid a visit to the Cox Medical Center Dee Ann White Women’s & Children’s Hospital. Though we weren’t able to set up our regular interpretive display a few doctors and nurses and at least one young patient were able to come out and sign the banner while folks inside waved from their windows. It is our greatest honor to share a little bit of the holiday spirit with members of our community who need it most. Our primary goal is bring joy into the hearts and minds of the American people. That’s why.
The 2021 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree will be lighted on December 1st and on display on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. until January 2, 2022. For more information please visit www.uscapitolchristmastree.com