Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

11-11 NM Tree on Schedule For US Capitol

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Relax, the Capitol Holiday Tree was cut on time from the Santa Fe National Forest and is scheduled for an on-time arrival in Washington, D.C., for its Dec. 8 lighting.
For awhile there, it appeared a little iffy after a federal court in California ruled against the U.S. Forest Service's new policy to allow certain projects to move ahead without environmental review.
As a result, The Forest Service put a hold on cutting the Holiday Tree, pending a 30-day comment period. There was time to squeeze in the 30-day period, but no one wanted to take any chances.
Worried that someone might comment, New Mexico's Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman asked the U.S. Attorney General and Agriculture Secretary to give their prompt attention to preventing any delay in getting the New Mexico tree to the U.S. Capitol.
In their letter, Domenici and Bingaman stated that they felt the Forest Service response was an unnecessary overreaction. Domenici went on to say that these "reindeer games" needed to stop.
Some New Mexico environmental groups said everyone needed to cool off because there were no protests planned. They suggested it was all an attempt to make the environmental movement appear extreme.
In the end, the tree cutting came off without a hitch. Selected in July, its location was kept secret, known only by global positioning system coordinates kept in the back pocket of the forest supervisor.
Of course it wasn't much of a secret with six federal marshals stationed around it full time. You can tell when I'm kidding, can't you?
Anyway, in our post-9/11 atmosphere, in which we were going to show the terrorists our mettle by not letting our lives be affected, a tree is receiving very tight security in case of a grinch attack.
But then it is a national symbol. And one of the things about which we are most afraid is the defiling of national symbols. And there are many of them, even in the tree category.
Besides the Capitol Holiday Tree, we have the outdoor National Christmas Tree, a living Colorado blue spruce, planted on the Ellipse across the street, behind the White House. It is 40 feet tall and is tended by the National Park Service and is lit in the Pageant of Peace in early December. Each state and territory is represented by 56 smaller trees.
Then there is the indoor National Christmas Tree that is presented on Thanksgiving weekend in the Blue Room of the White House. It is presented by the National Christmas Tree Association and is decorated by the White House floral department.
Back in 1946, Congress designated California's General Grant Sequoia as The Nation's Christmas Tree. Three years later, it named nearby Sanger, Calif. The Nation's Christmas Tree City.
And we must mention the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the biggest, brightest and most famous Christmas tree on the planet. It's lighting, shortly after Thanksgiving, is an annual television event.
The Capitol Holiday Tree sits on the west front lawn of the Capitol. Every year, the U.S. Forest Service chooses one of the 155 national forests it oversees to provide the Capitol tree.
In 1991, a tree was chosen from New Mexico's Carson National Forest near Taos. The Capitol landscape architect does the choosing and oversees the tree's display and lighting.
The 2005 tree was cut from the forest 25 miles west of Cuba, N.M. It was 83 feet tall, but was cut back to 65 feet because that is as high as the Capitol's cherry picker can go to put on the star. Also cut in New Mexico, from private land, are 65 smaller trees to decorate chief congressional and administrative offices.
Providing the national tree is a big deal for a small state like New Mexico -- this year. In other years, we only see a slight mention of it in the national media. Although thousands of people attend the lighting ceremony on the Capitol grounds, nearly all of them are either from the state providing the tree or from various congressional offices.
This is our year, so let's celebrate. After a weekend of observances in Cuba, the tree will make its way to 15 other New Mexico cities and towns before heading to Washington.
FRI, 11-11-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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