BLACKDUCK -- A dozen students from Blackduck scoured the Chippewa National Forest for the perfect tree Friday morning.
The Future Farmers of America group was led by U.S. Forest Service employees to a site where a tree stood that could be admired by visitors to the nation's capitol this winter.
In December, Chippewa National Forest Supervisor Darla Lenz announced the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree will be selected from the forest in Minnesota. The tree will be displayed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol building.
"This is about a Christmas tree project, but it's also about learning," said Mary LaPlant, Biological Technician for the U.S. Forest Service in Chippewa National Forest. "It opens up career opportunities."
FFA advisor Mark Friesen said FFA students frequently embark on career development events. Friday, the high schoolers were using loggers tape, GPS devices and clinometers to gauge tree heights and meter sticks and measuring tape to determine trunk diameters.
The 2014 tree will be a 65-70 foot white spruce. LaPlant said the forest service has already selected nine trees and they hope to have a dozen to present to the D.C. architect during a visit to the Chippewa National Forest in July.
"Most likely, the tree we find isn't going to be Hollywood perfect," LaPlant said. Real trees, no matter how beautiful, can have sparse spots. Because of possible defects, substitute trees are also chosen to fill in bare spaces.
Once a tree is chosen, a road will be made to access the spruce so it can be loaded onto an 80-foot semi-trailer. A crane will be used to hoist the tree up so it doesn't fall on its side and break branches. The tree will be laid into a cradle and a box will be built around it to protect the spruce during its journey. Generally, a community banner accompanies the tree with greetings from community members.
LaPlant said the logger of the year will be cutting the tree down. Marcell based Scheff Logging and Trucking, owned by James Scheff, was awarded 2014 Logger of the Year in April.
Logging, like farming, is something akin to Blackduck FFA students.
"All of our dads were loggers at one point," said FFA member Levi Dexter.
Although students were eyeing potential nominees, only U.S. Forest Service employees can nominate trees. The white spruce students viewed Friday was nominated by Chippewa National Forest Forester Linda Burke. The nominee measured approximately 70-feet high with a base diameter of 20.3 inches.
LaPlant said the interior of the Capitol building will be decorated with 60-70 smaller trees from the Minnesota Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has been providing Christmas trees for the Capitol. The Capitol Christmas Tree must be located on federal land. Friesen explained the Blackduck school has 84 acres of forest within the confines of Chippewa National Forest which is how the group became involved in the Capitol Christmas Tree project. LaPlant said it's not uncommon for national forests to have public and private land within its borders.
This will be the second time a Minnesota tree has been invited to Washington, D.C. In 1992, a 62-foot white spruce, was selected from the Chippewa National Forest through the "Tree to D.C." project.
Leading up to October, when the selected tree is planned to be cut down, communities, organizations and schools will be creating more than 10,000 ornaments for the trees. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will be participating in sponsorship of the tree. Leech Lake Indian Reservation and Chippewa National Forest share overlapping boundaries.
"It's a Christmas tree, but it's also a community tree," said Mike Theune, Public Affairs Officer for the Chippewa National Forest. "I'm just thrilled with the community support."
The Ornament Committee reported 8,000 ornament commitments as of April. Ornament contests at county fairs and an art contest are planned for this summer. Fiber artists are also sought to create 70 tree skirts for the smaller interior trees.
People interested in participating in the 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree project can contact Mike Theune at (218) 335-8673 or visit www.fs.usda.gov/chippewa.