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NC’s Ruby the red spruce to be U.S. Capitol Christmas tree

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U.S. Forest Service
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The U.S. Forest Service almost found the answer to the age-old riddle, “If a 78-foot Christmas tree is felled live on Facebook and the sound is muted so no one can hear, does it still kick off the holiday season?”

But in the nick of time, the livestream audio connection was restored and the sound of a Stihl chainsaw brought an online audience of hundreds back into the action as Ruby the big red spruce was ceremoniously severed.

Earlier, climbers had attached lines from a crane near the top of the tree, so that when the blade cut through the last splinters of Ruby’s trunk, the spruce jumped several feet into the air and dangled like one of the thousands of handmade ornaments with which she will later be adorned.

It will be a busy holiday season for Ruby, who will spend a couple of weeks on the road, making more than a dozen stops in North Carolina and Virginia on her way to becoming the 2022 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

“We have liftoff,” the Forest Service camera operator said as the cut was complete and the tree swung free and crews standing on the Haywood County hillside whooped as if Santa’s sleigh itself had left the ground.

THIRD NC TREE AT THE CAPITOL

In North Carolina, the nation’s second-largest producer of Christmas trees, the beginning of the annual harvest season is as welcome as a visit from ol’ Santa. While North Carolina has provided the Christmas trees for the White House 14 times — more than any other state — this is only the third tree from the state to serve at the nation’s Capitol since the tradition was launched there in 1964.

More than 850 growers in North Carolina produce about 50 million trees on more than 38,000 acres, according to the state growers’ association. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 2019, N.C. growers sold more than $67 million worth of Christmas trees, mostly Fraser, Douglas, Balsam, Grand, Noble and Nordmann firs, along with white and Scotch pine and Colorado blue spruce.

Ruby stands out as much for her species as her spectacular size.

Red spruce trees were once much more common in Southern Appalachian forests but began to disappear as a result of clear-cutting in the late 1800s. Fires have also taken a toll, and at higher elevations, botanists say a combination of insects, disease and air pollution may have kept the trees from repopulating.

So Ruby’s selection as the tree to adorn the U.S. Capitol’s west lawn is an opportunity to advocate for the revival of the red spruce. The U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation are raising money to build a state-of-the-art nursery at which to grow red spruce seedlings — including some from cones harvested from Ruby — to be used in reforestation work.

RUBY’S TREK TO WASHINGTON

The Forest Service has contributed $50,000, and the National Forest Foundation is raising another $200,000.

The nonprofit Southern Highlands Reserve will manage the new nursery and plans to plant 50,000 red spruce trees on public lands in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia with help from The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The tree is expected to arrive on the Capitol grounds on Nov. 15. Nine-year-old Catcuce Micco Tiger, who goes by “Coche,” a fourth-grader from Cherokee and a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, will flip the switch to light the tree.

When the holidays are done, Ruby’s wood will be used to make musical instruments that, when played, will make sounds whether or not anyone else is there to hear.

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