US Forest Service staff began searching for this year’s candidates in December. First, they identified areas with known spruce populations. Then, while the team was conducting field work in those areas, they used GPS to tag the tree trunks that reached the standards set by the Architect in the Capitol office.
Each fir tree considered must be between 18 and 24 meters tall and undergo a review to comply with the National Environmental Policy Law. The US Forest Service investigates whether the candidate is near any endangered species, grows near a water source, and/or provides habitat for wildlife.
The US Capitol Christmas Tree team selected eight trees to present to Kaufmann during a visit in July.
This year, the tree comes from an urbanized area where the environmental impact of its removal is minimal and can be easily removed with the necessary heavy machinery.
Some notable trees were donated by private owners.
Leah Haugan, special projects coordinator for the South Dakota Office of Administration, said that families call her every year to donate a tree that is in their yard. He sent foresters from South Dakota State University to make sure the trees were healthy, 30 to 40 feet tall and flexible enough to fit through the doors of the state Capitol building.
Erik Pauze, head gardener at Rockefeller Center, searches for candidates years in advance.
“When I find a good candidate, I usually visit it over the years, sometimes fertilizing it or giving it extra water during the summer,” Pauze said.
Pauze found the Rockefeller Center tree this year while traveling to meet with another candidate. He stopped and knocked on Jackie and Matt McGinley’s door in Vestal, New York. The 12-ton spruce next to the family’s driveway meets all the requirements to be the tree of Rockefeller Center. It’s at least 80 feet tall, symmetrical, and dense enough that you can’t see the sky when looking at its branches. For Pauze, the meeting was imaginary.