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Capitol Christmas Tree Rates Carbon Offsets

The latest effort to green the Capitol involves a 43-year-old tradition that is perhaps the opposite of tree hugging: the felling of the Capitol Christmas Tree.

This year, a 25-year-old balsam fir will be removed from Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, providing the Capitol with a 55-foot-tall tree. That action will end the tree’s ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but federal officials aim to at least make its death — and trip to Washington — carbon neutral.

The Vermont Capitol Christmas Tree Committee has purchased about $300 worth of carbon offsets to pay for its 600-mile trip down the coast.

“It was an effort to go as green as we possibly could,” said Kristi Ponozzo, the Green Mountain National Forest spokeswoman. “We wanted to have the old-fashioned trucks drive down the tree, but we also wanted to do what we could to go green.”

The $300 will offset the 3,000 gallons of fuel required to transport the Christmas tree and 80 “companion” trees that will be distributed at various federal agencies. That money will go to support the National Forest Foundation’s new Carbon Capital Fund, which supports reforestation projects in national forests — or, more simply, pays for the planting of trees just like the newly appointed Capitol Christmas Tree.

The fund’s first project will focus on reforesting 500 acres of the fire-damaged Custer National Forest in Montana and South Dakota.

Forest officials also will plant four seedlings in the Green Mountain forest after cutting down both the Christmas tree and a similarly sized “parts tree” that will provide extra branches for any needed sprucing up. And when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lights the Christmas tree on Dec. 5, only low-energy LEDs will adorn its branches.

“The arrival of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree signals to children young and old that the joyous holiday season is fast approaching,” Pelosi said in a press release, adding that it is an “honor” to get the tree from Vermont. “We will continue to keep our children and future generations in mind by using only energy efficient lighting on this year’s tree.”

This is the fifth time Vermont has provided the tree to the Capitol. But it’s still exciting for the state: Forest officials have been taking special care of the tree for years in the hope that it would be chosen for the Capitol’s grounds, Ponozzo said, keeping beavers away and checking on its progress regularly.

It’s the first time carbon offsets have been purchased for a Vermont tree’s journey. Other forests have purchased carbon offsets over the years, said Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman Eva Malecki. Having such a tree at the Capitol has been a tradition since 1964.

This is the second consecutive year that the AOC is lighting the tree completely with LEDs, or “light-emitting diodes,” she said.

They will be lit from nightfall to 11 p.m. every night until Jan. 1. The tree will also feature more than 4,500 ornaments made by Vermonters that focus on the theme “Bringing an Old-Fashioned Holiday to the Nation.”

On its way to D.C., the tree will travel with 80 “companion trees,” arriving at the Capitol’s West Front at 10 a.m. on Nov. 26. The smaller companion trees will go to the offices of federal agencies and are taken from tree farms in Vermont, Ponozzo said.

The whole process — from felling to moving to the final lighting ceremony — brings together people and organizations that rarely come in contact, Ponozzo said. And it helps get out the word about Vermont’s national forest.

“It’s really sort of an outreach to urban areas and maybe people who don’t necessarily visit national forests,” she said. “It’s getting people to know what we do and understand what we do and support what we do.”