HELENA – At the Rancho Deluxe Vegetation Project, south of Gold Creek in Powell County, teams are working on 1,100 acres of commercial timber harvesting. But one of the trees they felled is very special — it’s now the new Christmas tree in the rotunda of the Montana State Capitol.
Governor Greg Gianforte visited the project on Monday to see the tree in its original habitat. Sean Steinebach, a visiting ranger at Sun Mountain Lumber at 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 in terms of shape, it just screams Christmas tree – and it’s a subalpine fir, and nothing smells more Christmassy than a subalpine fir,” he said. “I was pretty excited when I saw it because they really make a wonderful Christmas tree and we don’t have much at that height but there is one right there.”
“It’s a beautiful specimen,” said Gianforte. “The top is so full; it will look absolutely gorgeous in the Capitol Rotunda.”
With that, it was time to cut down the tree. Cameron Rasor, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest’s Pintler District Ranger, even issued a special Christmas tree permit for the job. It took about half an hour to harvest the tree and put it on a trailer for its journey to Helena.
US Forest Service officials say the Rancho Deluxe project is producing timber, reducing fuel loads to reduce wildfire risk and managing damage from the region’s recent beetle infestations.
The removal of a tree from this project area also highlighted the partnerships that made the work possible. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation provided assistance with the design and implementation of the project through the Good Neighbor Authority, a statewide program that enables the forest service to work with government agencies. Gianforte has highlighted the GNA as an opportunity to expand active forest management in the state.
Leaders also recognized Sun Mountain Lumber and Parke Logging for their roles.
“It takes everyone to make this thing happen – a great community effort,” said Steinebach.
“We are the treasure state and wood is one of our treasures – it’s a renewable treasure and that’s why we have a great partnership,” said Gianforte. “Bringing some of Montana’s treasures to the Capitol is just a wonderful thing.”
On Friday morning the tree arrived at the Capitol – now significantly shortened to fit. The crews brought in a crane to haul it to the second floor, where they carried it through the front doors into the rotunda. It will now be fully adorned, with a lighting ceremony scheduled for the coming days.