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The Green Life: The National Christmas Tree: A Tradition in Conservation

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December 16, 2010

The National Christmas Tree: A Tradition in Conservation

AmericanForestsNationalChristmasTree2 Before local tree farms were established to provide Christmas trees in a sustainable way, people cut them from the wild, and forests suffered greatly.

In 1924, a nonprofit called American Forests stepped in. Dan Smith, currently the organization's spokesperson, said, "They were concerned about the extensive cutting that was going on in forests, parks, and public lands. They wanted to encourage the use of living trees, and one way to do that was to go to the top. So they donated a tree to the president."

President and Mrs. Coolidge accepted the gift of a living 35-foot Norway spruce, which was planted near the White House on Sherman Plaza. And so began the tradition of a living National Christmas Tree.  "With the gift came an increased public awareness of the impact of Christmas tree harvesting on  forests, " Smith said. "It was meant to spur interest in this new industry of people growing Christmas trees like crops and harvesting them like corn and other agricultural products."

This season's National Christmas Tree, lit by President Obama last week, is a Colorado blue spruce that was planted on the Ellipse in 1978. And for the second year, LEDs are providing energy-efficient illumination.

Smith said that the tradition of promoting tree and forest conservation  via a sustainable National Christmas Tree lighting celebration has taken a bit of pressure off his organization: "We recognize that the Christmas tree business is a small business and is done with a lot of care and in a sustainable way," he said. "So we're not as concerned now as we were then, when people were going willy-nilly into forests and cutting down trees for every room of the house."

--Molly Oleson/photo courtesy of Dan Smith/American Forests

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