At first, the pitch seemed like no more than a stunt. On Jan. 8, Sen. Jon Tester requested that the Capitol Christmas Tree—a 79-foot Engelmann Spruce harvested on the Kootenai National Forest—be sent home, milled and used in the rebuilding of Glacier’s historic Sperry Chalet. “I’d like to see this tree go home to Big Sky Country, where it can continue giving to the people to whom our public lands belong,” Tester wrote to the Capitol architect.
Tester was the second national official in a week to suggest a creative way to rebuild the wildfire-gutted Sperry Chalet. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke had earlier promised the project would include soundproofing to prevent kids from overhearing the amorous activities of their parents. At least Tester slipped in a plug for public lands.
Typically, Capitol Christmas trees are chipped into compost and spread across the U.S. Capitol lawn, which seems like a fine and noble end to the tree’s festive journey. Here in the Indy office, we joked about the carbon output of the 2,300-mile return journey proposed by Tester. Because the whole thing was clearly a joke, right?
It wasn’t. On Jan. 10, the Associated Press reported that Tester’s plan had taken root. The tree’s coming home! The story even quoted nameless critics questioning the fuel consumption required for such a trip. Perhaps our newsroom is bugged.
The tree has become the gift that won’t stop giving. The Missoulian has already run 17 stories about it. Reporters have covered the search for the perfect tree, the family that cut it down, the trucking company hired to haul it, the pit stop in the truck driver’s hometown, the ballet dancers chosen to accompany it, the boy selected to flip the Christmas light switch, and the star made to adorn it. Brace next for blow-by-blow coverage of the return of our state’s prodigal tree.
But if Sperry is to be rebuilt with the spirit of the Engelmann Spruce, it seems misguided to trap within that lumber the tale of a gas-guzzling road trip. Forest managers throughout the state have spent months crafting plans for ways to use the salvage wood the 2017 fire season left behind. Resurrecting Sperry from those ashes would make for a far more striking narrative, and one that avoids association with the very force—climate change—that threatens to make our chalet-hungry wildfires even worse.