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The Green Life: The Capitol Christmas Tree's Big, Green(ish) Journey

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December 01, 2011

The Capitol Christmas Tree's Big, Green(ish) Journey

Capitol Christmas treeAfter a 20-day journey, the Capitol Christmas tree finally pulled into Washington, D.C., on Monday. It had come all the way from Northern California. The trip involved semi-trucks and law-enforcement vehicles, not to mention cross-country flights during the selection process. For a symbol of stewardship, this massive Sierra white fir accrued quite a carbon footprint.

Fortunately, the Van Eck Forest Project is offsetting all those emissions with a retirement of 80 tons in California carbon credits.

A privately owned, 2,200-acre swath of redwoods, the Van Eck Forest is managed by the Pacific Forest Trust under a conservation easement: It remains a timber forest, but its trees grow for longer, and no current forest land is developed or logged. This ensures that the forest acts as a natural resource and as a carbon trap. It operates on purchased carbon credits.

“We’re lucky to have the Pacific Forest Trust as our nonprofit partner,” said Maria Benech, this year's Capitol Christmas Tree coordinator. “Working with them has been wonderful.”

Once she and her team chose California's Stanislaus National Forest as the tree's place of origin, a rigorous selection process ensued. Locals searched the area for perfect trees. Then the Forest Service narrowed it down to a dozen or so, and the superintendent of the Capitol's grounds flew out to have his pick. Among the criteria were base fullness, branch pliability, color, and overall form (a perfect cone shape is best).

On its journey east, the tree was pampered with 60 gallons of water per day, and was never left unguarded.

Come December 6, house speaker John Boehner (R, Ohio), along with second-grader Johnny Crawford, will flip the switch on the 10,000 LEDs that adorn the tree. “Johnny’s family is very excited.” said Benech. “He’s a cute little guy.”

The tree's lights will sparkle from dusk until 11 p.m. nightly until New Year's Day — an energy expenditure that's not covered by the offsets. Still, Benech hopes to turn the tree’s offset trip into a tradition. “Colorado will donate next year’s tree,” she said. “The Pacific Forest Trust doesn’t operate there, but we hope to find a partner like them.”

--Jake Abrahamson

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