Finding a Christmas tree fit for the U.S. Capitol

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The United State Capitol Christmas tree, an eighty-foot Engelmann Spruce from Idaho, arrives on the west front lawn in Washington, U.S., November 28, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron - RTSTQ63

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to our “NewsHour” Shares, something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

Rain showers and chilly temperatures did little to dampen spirits at the annual lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree this evening. This year’s tree is an 80-foot Engelmann spruce from McCall, Idaho.

Joan Cartan-Hansen of Idaho Public Television has been following the man tasked with finding that tree, and she sent us this profile.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: Chris Niccoli’s day job is fighting wildfires out of the smokejumpers base in McCall, Idaho. But for the last several months, he’s had a new assignment.

CHRIS NICCOLI, Payette National Forest: I’m also the logistic section for the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: That means Niccoli is the man responsible for finding, cutting, and supervising the shipping and delivery of the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree.

Since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has provided the Christmas tree that stands on the Capitol grounds. This year’s tree comes from Idaho’s Payette National Forest.

Niccoli started seriously looking for the tree last spring. When he would find a contender, he’d mark the GPS location and take a picture.

CHRIS NICCOLI: We’re looking for a Doug fir or an Engelmann spruce-type species. You know, those are the quintessential Christmas trees look.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: Niccoli narrowed down the choices to about a dozen trees. Then, last July, Ted Bechtol, the superintendent of the U.S. Capitol grounds, came to Idaho to make the final selection.

Deciding on the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is a lot like picking your family tree, just on a much bigger scale.

TED BECHTOL, U.S. Capitol Grounds Superintendent: Sixty to eighty-five feet in height, a nice conical shape, because the tree is viewed from 360 degrees.

I have think we have seen better, yes.

CHRIS NICCOLI: Yes. We have better ones.

TED BECHTOL: A nice looking tree.

CHRIS NICCOLI: It’s a good looking tree.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: Just as important as finding the right tree is finding it in the right location. Access is important, because crews will have to take this 11,000-pound tree and put it onto a 105-foot-long trailer. They found the right combination on the edge of Little Ski Hill just west of McCall.

On November 4, hundreds gathered to watch Niccoli and a fellow smokejumper cut the prized Engelmann spruce.

CHRIS NICCOLI: One inch. One. One inch. There you have it.

It’s just barely hanging on.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: With a few more cuts from an axe, and a little pressure…

CHRIS NICCOLI: Here it comes, Bill. And she’s free.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: The tree, all tied up on the back of the tractor-trailer, toured Idaho for several days, and then headed across the country to its final home at the U.S. Capitol.

CHRIS NICCOLI: It’s once in a lifetime for anybody involved, right? And for me especially, I just feel really grateful. It’s great, yes. It’s really fun.

JOAN CARTAN-HANSEN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Joan Cartan-Hansen in Boise, Idaho.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thanks to those folks. We don’t think about all the work that goes into finding this tree.

HARI SREENIVASAN: I had absolutely no idea.

The post Finding a Christmas tree fit for the U.S. Capitol appeared first on PBS NewsHour.