HELENA — On the Rancho Deluxe Vegetation Project, just south of Gold Creek in Powell County, crews are working on 1,100 acres of commercial timber harvesting. But one of the trees they’ve taken down is particularly special – it’s now the new Christmas tree in the Montana State Capitol rotunda.
On Monday, Gov. Greg Gianforte visited the project to see the tree in its original habitat. Sean Steinebach, an outreach forester with Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge, selected a tree to recommend for the role. He says he looked at several hundred before a 57-foot fir caught his eye.
“I think that as far as the form, it just screams Christmas tree – and it’s a subalpine fir, and nothing’s more Christmassy-smelling than a subalpine fir,” he said. “I was kind of excited when I saw it, because they really make a wonderful Christmas tree, and we don’t have a lot at this elevation, but there’s one right there.”
“This is a beautiful specimen,” Gianforte said. “The top is so full; it’s going to look absolutely gorgeous in the rotunda at the Capitol.”
With that, it was time to cut the tree down. Cameron Rasor, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest’s Pintler District Ranger, even provided a special Christmas tree permit for the job. It took about half an hour to harvest the tree and get it onto a trailer for its trip to Helena.
U.S. Forest Service leaders say the Rancho Deluxe project is producing lumber, reducing fuel loads to address wildfire risk, and dealing with the damage from recent beetle infestations in the area.
Taking a tree from this project area also highlighted the partnerships that made the work possible. Under the Good Neighbor Authority – a nationwide program that lets the Forest Service partner with state agencies – the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation provided assistance in planning and implementing the project. Gianforte has highlighted the GNA as a way to expand active forest management in the state.
Leaders also credited Sun Mountain Lumber and Parke Logging for their roles.
“It takes everybody to make this thing happen – a super collaborative effort,” said Steinebach.
“We are the Treasure State, and timber is one of our treasures – it’s a renewable treasure, and that’s why we have a great partnership,” Gianforte said. “To bring some of Montana’s treasure into the Capitol is just a wonderful thing.”
On Friday morning, the tree arrived at the Capitol – now cut down significantly to fit. Crews brought in a crane to haul it up to the second floor, where they carried it through the front doors into the rotunda. It will now be fully decorated, with a lighting ceremony set for the coming days.