The tradition of placing a live tree on the White House lawn in celebration of Christmas was started in 1964 by then Speaker of the House, U.S. Representative, John W. McCormack (D-MA). At that time, the tree was actually planted in its place, it lived for approximately 3 years before succumbing to damage from wind and impacts to its roots. The U.S. Forest Service was asked by the Capitol Architect to provide a tree in 1970. A different national forest has provided a Christmas tree (or People’s Tree) for the White House every year hence. The chosen national forest will also help identify and supply smaller, companion trees for other state offices throughout the town.
This year’s tree came from Chippewa National Forest in north-central Minnesota, harvested by Logger of the Year, Jim Scheff. This award is presented by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Inc. (SFI); a firm which helps develop best management practices aimed at protecting water resources and preserving and improving forest health. Although it logging may seem like a practice that is contrary in its goals from sustainability, but loggers like Jim Scheff who employ responsible practices and aid state agencies in forest management play a critical role in sustainable forestry. State agencies work with loggers and professional foresters to provide certification and training that meets sustainable standards for safe, productive and environmentally responsible timber harvesting.
But, really, how sustainable is the Christmas tree industry in general? In 2012, over 24 million farm-grown Christmas trees were purchased. And approximately 350 million trees are currently being grown on farms. And while massive deforestation is detrimental to the environment, responsible growth and harvest of trees in this manner can have environmental benefits:
- Growing trees, even on farms, can provide habitat for wildlife,
- Christmas trees, like all trees, remove pollutants from the air, improve water quality, provide shade and improve energy efficiency
- Polls have shown that 93% of families who purchase live trees recycle them through local programs or by composting or mulching them on their own property,
- These recycled trees are turning into moisture-retaining mulch, nutrient cycling compost, sand and erosion control devices,
- One acre of farm-grown Christmas trees produces enough oxygen to satisfy daily requirements for 18 people
For more fun holiday facts about trees visit: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/trees/facts.cfm or to find out more about work being done by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative: http://www.sfiprogram.org/media-resources/news/sfi-community-comes-together-to-celebrate-the-people-s-tree-at-the-u-s-capitol/.