Capitol Christmas Tree: A Partnership Model

Tom Tidwell, Chief
Holiday Reception on the Patio
Washington, DC
— December 7, 2010

Good afternoon, and welcome!

We are here to celebrate an annual event—our donation of the Capitol Christmas Tree from the Forest Service to the people of the United States.

Each year, the tree comes from a different state and a different national forest. This is not just a Forest Service event, but a collective endeavor of many months. It involves many different partners and thousands of people of all ages and from all walks of life. It involves a journey of thousands of miles, with many different stops and with events in many different communities, with celebrations all along the way.

It all leads up to the lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree tonight, with the Speaker of the House and other distinguished guests. And for the rest of the month, Americans who come to Washington, DC, will be able to enjoy a Christmas tree that belongs to them all—to everyone in the nation.

It really is a spectacular tree. It’s an Engelmann spruce, 67 feet tall and 83 years old at harvest, with a basal area of 30 feet. It was brought to us by the people of Wyoming, from the Blackrock Ranger District on the Bridger–Teton National Forest.

It’s called the People’s Tree, for the people’s branch of government. But its honorary name is Sandra’s Tree, for Sandra Seaton, who worked on the forest and who found the tree. Sandra noted its location, but before she could take anyone there, she had to have surgery. Tragically, she passed away during the operation.

Based on Sandra’s written notes and a lot of hard work, folks from the Bridger–Teton helped the Capitol Architect find the tree. They named it in Sandra’s memory. For our Forest Service family, there’s a lot of emotion invested in this tree.

Sandra’s Tree has 75 companion trees that are being displayed here at USDA and throughout the Capitol complex. It’s traditional for the citizens of a state to hand-craft the decorations. As you know, Wyoming’s population isn’t very big, and there were some who thought they couldn’t do it. But the people of Wyoming came through with flying colors. People of all ages chipped in, and together they made more than 11,000 hand-crafted ornaments!

Wyoming’s population might be small, but it takes a big heart to fill all those wide-open spaces in the West. The spirit of community and partnership is alive and well in Wyoming. They traveled more than 4,500 miles to bring these trees to our nation’s capital, and it made 21 stops along the way in Wyoming alone for community events. The turnout and enthusiasm were great—I understand we got 100-percent attendance in Jeffrey City—all 12 people!

This entire journey, from the selection of the tree to its arrival here in Washington, DC, is eloquent testimony to the power of partnerships and collaboration. The Forest Service is only one of the many partners involved, and more than 50,000 volunteer hours were donated.

As we look ahead, that same energy will be needed. The challenges we face are as daunting as any in our hundred-plus-year history: regional droughts, growing fire seasons, threats to water supplies, the spread of invasive species, horrendous outbreaks of insects and disease … all of it made worse by the overarching challenge of climate change. As we look ahead, no single entity can deal with these challenges alone. We will need to work together across all  jurisdictions on a landscape scale to restore healthy, resilient forest and grassland ecosystems that will continue to deliver all the benefits that Americans want and need.

And that will take partnerships and collaboration. So, on behalf of the Forest Service, thanks to all the folks on the Bridger–Teton National Forest who worked so hard to make this possible. Thanks to all of our partners and volunteers—without you, this would not have been possible. And a special thanks to the people of Wyoming for showing the way—for modeling the partnerships and collaboration that we will need in the century to come.