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
The tree was supported with two slings from a
crane as it was cut, to prevent it from falling and its branches
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
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
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
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
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,
A celebration will be held Friday, Nov. 9 in
Sweet Home before the tree begins following a reverse path of the
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
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
Written by Capi Lynn, Statesman Journel
Saturday, December 5, 2020