Oregon's 82-foot noble fir tree for US Capitol comes down without a hitch

WILLAMETTE NATIONAL FOREST - Jonah Gladney has cut down his share of trees, but seldom such a healthy specimen and never in front of an audience.

Most of the trees the fire crew supervisor from Stayton encounters are snags and headed for a burn pile, not the West Lawn of the United States Capitol.

Gladney took time out from leading a crew of wildland firefighters on prescribed burn duty in the Detroit and Sweet Home areas to help harvest the 82-foot-tall noble fir on Friday that will decorate the nation's Capitol during the holidays.

The tree was supported with two slings from a crane as it was cut, to prevent it from falling and its branches from breaking.

It's the first time in the 47-year history of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Program that a noble has been selected and the second time Oregon has supplied the tree. A 70-foot Douglas fir from Umpqua National Forest was chosen in 2002.

During Friday morning's cutting ceremony, 50 lucky Oregonians were able to attend in person, with hard hats on their heads and smartphones in their hands.

The soggy conditions didn't dampen their spirits as they cheered the moment the tree cracked and swayed free. Dozens of others waited at River Bend County Park for the replay to be shown later on a giant screen.

The Statesman Journal drone team captured live footage from above. Members from 10 media outlets did the same from the ground.

Never has so much attention been paid to a tree being felled in Oregon, which has a proud history of logging.

Gladney, with his wife and two young children among the crowd, called it his "30 seconds of glory."

With all eyes on him and the tree, he said he felt the pressure "a little bit at first, but then the saw started and it all came naturally."

Vernon Esplin, the owner of Buena Vista Arbor Care and experienced at crane tree removal, set the stage for Gladney. He climbed to the top to set the rigging and secure the noble. While there, he dropped a line for a measurement.

The noble was 2 feet taller than officials originally thought and was 28 inches diameter at breast height. Esplin said the cutting team estimated the tree to weigh 14,000 to 16,000 pounds.

Tracy Beck, forest supervisor with Willamette National Forest, counted 26 rings on one of the souvenir rounds taken 8 feet up the tree and estimated the noble to be about 35 years old.

The number of spectators, shuttled to the site in rented vans, was limited by the size of the area surrounding the tree and the need to accommodate a crane and supporting equipment provided by Papé and Axis Crane.

Officials from the Willamette National Forest had planned for and anticipated this moment for more than a year. A shadow team observed and pitched in last year when the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree was harvested in Montana.

Joanie Schmidgall, a member of that team, said Oregon was able to plan a bigger cutting ceremony, in part because the 79-foot Engelmann spruce from Montana was felled in a more remote area.

The perfect tree from Oregon was chosen in August from a handful of finalists by the visiting Architect of the Capitol. Oregon foresters, recreation specialists and a botanist presented a list of candidates.

The location was kept secret until Friday. It took about 50-minute drive to get to the site, including the last 8 miles on a gravel Forest Service road beyond House Rock Campground at an elevation of 3,500 feet.

Once cut, the tree was lifted by a crane and loaded onto a flatbed truck which got stuck in the mud on a bend in the road on its way out of the forest.

Heavy equipment will be used Saturday to free to the truck and trailer which will then head for a warehouse in Sweet Home, a small logging town. Panels, including some see-through, will be added to the flatbed and the tree's branches gently tucked inside for the 3,000-mile journey to Washington, D.C.

A celebration will be held Friday, Nov. 9 in Sweet Home before the tree begins following a reverse path of the Oregon Trail

A series of events will be hosted in communities along the way. Eleven of the 24 stops are in Oregon, including 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the State Capitol in Salem.

The noble fir eventually will be erected on the West Lawn and a public tree-lighting ceremony held in early December.

Oregon also is providing 70 smaller companion trees to decorate government buildings and other public spaces, plus decorations for all. Oregonians have made 10,000 homemade ornaments, 3,500 for the big tree and 6,500 for the smaller trees.


Written by Capi Lynn, Statesman Journel


Thursday, September 28, 2023