Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Greater Phoenix Chapter

Old Home Home Contact Us Upcoming
Church State Issues Report Church State Violations Join
Email List
Email List
Membership Donations Request
Facebook Meetup Links Send Letter to Editor


Church State Issues

Mixing government and religion in Washington DC and Arizona

Jun 16, 2010

By: Mary Beth Faller 616xmas0616.html

Arizonans can pick yule tree for D.C.

Jun. 16, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

The "people's Christmas tree," displayed over the holidays on the U.S. Capitol lawn, will come from Arizona this year for the first time.

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pulls the switch to light the tree in early December, it will culminate a process that started nearly two years ago, when the Forest Service learned that the 2009 tree would come from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests near Show Low.

"It's an opportunity to showcase our state," says Richard Davalos, a forest ranger who has worked full time as the Christmas-tree coordinator since 2007. Last November, Davalos visited Montana, where the 2008 Capitol tree was cut and shipped. The logistics of the project were overwhelming.

"It was eye-opening, the amount of work and the amount of detail that's involved," he says.

Here is a timeline for the project:

• Arizona residents can help choose a tree. The deadline is June 24 to nominate a tree from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Forest Service employees are also scouting several candidates.

The tree must be between 60 and 80 feet tall, which will mean it's about 100 to 150 years old, and have a nice 360-degree appearance. Possible varieties are blue spruce, Douglas fir, white fir or Arizona cypress.

In addition, state residents can start making ornaments for the tree; it will need 4,000 outdoor-ready ornaments that reflect the theme of "Arizona's gift from the Grand Canyon State."

Find a tree-nomination form and ornament guidelines at

• The Forest Service will narrow the tree choices to about eight. In mid-July, Theodore Bechtol, superintendent of grounds for the U.S. Capitol, will visit the forest to make the final selection. Basically, he will look for what most tree customers would in a tree:

"It needs to be straight, and a good, healthy representative of its species," Bechtol says. "I lean toward taller and narrower, but that's a personal preference. I'm a tall, thin guy myself."

Because no drought is expected this summer, the Forest Service will likely not need to do anything to maintain the tree, Davalos says.

• In early November, the tree will be cut in an elaborate process that will involve a crane hoisting it so it doesn't touch the ground. It will be bundled and carefully lowered onto a specially built, 84-foot trailer that has rigid, protective sides and a reservoir that holds the 80 gallons of water the tree will drink each day.

The White Mountain Apache tribe has expressed interest in holding a ceremony to bless the tree when it is cut, Davalos says, and there will be other festivities.

Throughout November, the trailer, which also has a large window through which the tree can be seen, will travel to several locations throughout Arizona. Each community will have its own celebration to mark the arrival of the tree, and visitors can buy souvenirs to help fund the project.

• In mid-November, the Forest Service will cut down an additional 80 trees for use in the offices of Arizona's congressional delegation.

• At the end of November, the big and smaller trees and all the ornaments will start heading to Washington, D.C., in a convoy under federal and state security.

Davalos will have spent months planning the cross-country trip.

"The tree is an agricultural product, so we have to have agricultural permits to transport it across state lines, and each state has its own system," he says. "We can't just pull off at the local McDonald's for lunch, so we have to think about where we're stopping.

"At night, the tree has to be in a secure location, so we'll be looking at state Department of Transportation yards or National Guard yards."

• After the tree arrives in Washington in early December, workers will need several days to install it and add the lights and decorations. Pelosi will light the tree in a ceremony. The Capitol tree is not to be confused with the White House tree, which the president lights and which is a live tree on the White House grounds.

After the holidays, the Arizona tree will be mulched for the Capitol gardens.

No state money has been allocated for the project, Davalos says. The approximately $350,000 needed will come from donations of money and services and corporate sponsors. A utility is donating the use of its crane, a nursery in Pinetop-Lakeside has offered to bundle the tree and a national moving company has donated transportation services.

Bechtol, the Capitol grounds superintendent, says choosing a tree is one of the best parts of his job.

"I just spent an hour in budget meetings," he said last week. "So I would really rather be outdoors in the forest."