WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2012 – Lawmakers came together in a rare display of bipartisan cooperation yesterday to celebrate the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree, a 73 ft. Engelmann Spruce from Colorado’s White River National Forest.
House Speaker John Boehner, Agriculture Undersecretary of Natural Resources Harris Sherman and the entire Colorado congressional delegation were on hand for the ceremony, which took place yesterday evening.
Former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was also present for the lighting, after spending more than three weeks driving the tree the 1500 miles from its harvesting in Meeker, CO, to the capital. “When (the tree) came to Denver,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in his remarks, “my kids’ first question to me was, ‘Dad, why can’t you drive that truck?’”
The honor of donating this “People’s Tree” to the Capitol is an especially poignant one this year – Colorado’s forests suffered devastating fires this summer, and a quiet but no less damaging bark beetle epidemic has destroyed 6.6 million acres of forest. In this context, the Capitol Christmas Tree “speaks to the importance of forest health,” Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said in his address. Undersecretary Sherman echoed the congressman: “This occasion tonight gives us an opportunity to recognize some of the challenges we have with our national forests,” he said.
But the ceremony was, ultimately, a joyful occasion, especially when Colorado Eagle Scout Ryan Shuster joined Speak Boehner onstage to flip the switch and light up the tree for the first time this year.
The Capitol Christmas Tree tradition began in 1964, when a Douglas Fir from Birdsboro, Pennsylvania graced Capitol Hill’s lawn. Since 1970, the Capitol tree has been harvested from a national forest somewhere in the United States. It is traditionally called the People’s Tree “for good reason,” Undersecretary Sherman noted during the ceremony, “and that’s because it comes from our public lands, which belong to the all the people of the United States.”
The tree will be lit nightly from dusk to 11 pm throughout the holiday season.