Alaska News

Chugach National Forest to provide 2015 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree

Next Christmas, an evergreen from the Chugach National Forest will serve as the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree, the first time a tree from Alaska has had the honor, the U.S. Forest Service announced Monday.

Thousands of ornaments for "the People's Tree" and smaller trees in government offices in Washington, D.C., will be made by schoolchildren around Alaska, the Forest Service said in its announcement.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski took to Twitter to share the news and was quoted in the Forest Service's press release as saying, "Countless Alaskans have cut down their own Christmas tree(s) from the Chugach over the years, and I'm glad that the U.S. Capitol is following suit. ... This is truly a well-deserved recognition for Alaskans to be proud of."

The tradition of placing a Christmas tree on the west lawn of the Capitol during the holiday season began in 1964, and since 1970, a different national forest has been selected to provide the tree each year. The 2014 tree came from Minnesota's Chippewa National Forest and made appearances all over Minnesota and the Midwest before arriving in Washington. The Forest Service said it will work with Sen. Murkowski to schedule "events and community collaboration across Alaska."

In 1995, the Forest Service selected the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska to provide the trees for the Capitol and the White House for the 1998 holiday season, but the Alaska Legislature vehemently objected as a protest against the Clinton administration's environmental policies. During the 1997 session, members of the Legislature said President Clinton was responsible for the sharp decline in Southeast Alaska's logging industry and the resulting job losses.

''The grinch who stole Christmas from the families of the Tongass is now asking the families of the Tongass to send him Christmas trees and tree ornaments,'' Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said, according to an Associated Press story at the time.

The Legislature adopted a strongly worded resolution stating its opposition to the selection of trees from the Tongass, saying, "What should be an honor is instead an affront as it carries the message that careful harvesting of our trees is acceptable to decorate the nation's Capitol and the halls of Congress, yet not acceptable to provide jobs for the people of Southeast Alaska," and requesting the Clinton administration to pick another state to provide the trees. That resolution was also brought before the U.S. Senate as a petition.

Although the state had no authority to prevent the trees from being taken, since the Tongass is federal land, the Forest Service ultimately decided to take the 1998 trees from the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.