Officials inspect Capitol Christmas Tree candidates

The process for selecting the 2017 Capitol Christmas Tree got underway in the Kootenai National Forest last week. Ted Bechtol, Superintendent of the Capitol Grounds, was in Libby to evaluate several candidate trees and make his decision on the official tree.

“We looked at some nice ones yesterday,” Bechtol said Wednesday morning before heading toward Eureka. “Hopefully we’ll see more today.”

The candidate trees are selected by local U.S. Forest Service personnel, based upon pre-established criteria. The Capitol Christmas Tree, Bechtol said, should measure between 60 and 85 feet in height, and be a very ornamental specimen with a conical shape and a healthy color. The tree must also be as close to perfectly straight as possible.

“Mostly, it just comes down to cosmetics,” he said.

The other  consideration involved in the final selection, Bechtol said, is the width of the tree. It is important to select a tree with  branches strong enough to survive being trucked across the country without sustaining excessive damage. The tree must also be narrow enough to effectively transport by truck.

The tree, which will be placed on the lawn on the west side of the United States Capitol grounds, will be selected by Bechtol and his staff in the coming weeks. It will be harvested from the forest Nov. 9, 2017, and then taken to a facility in order to be prepared for its journey to Washington, D.C.

Bruce Ward, president of the Forest Service’s lead non-profit partner on the project, Choose Outdoors, accompanied Bechtol and his staff on the visit. He said the tree’s journey from the Kootenai National Forest to the nation’s capitol will be an event unto itself.

He said the tree, along with the 70 companion trees that will decorate a number of federal buildings and offices, will make a “whistlestop” tour through Montana and across the United States, making stops in several communities along the way.

The tree will work its way to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where the servicemen and women will prepare it for its final journey to the United States Capitol, where it will stand during the holiday season to be viewed by millions of people.