From one of the 155 national forests covering over 190 million acres, one single tree is chosen for the prestigious honor of serving as the people’s tree, the Capitol Christmas Tree. The tradition of a Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn began in 1964, but starting in 1970, the U.S. Forest Service instituted a selection process for finding the perfect tree.

Each year, a different national forest is chosen to provide the tree, and for 2013 the honor went to Colville National Forest in Washington State. On November 1, the chosen tree, an 88-foot-tall Engelmann spruce, was harvested. Now for the tricky part: transporting the massive tree 5,000-plus miles from the Pacific Northwest to the nation’s capitol.

Once the 10,000-pound tree is loaded onto the 103-foot-long expandable trailer, along with a 40-gallon bladder to keep the tree hydrated for the trek; the branches are tucked in using ratcheting straps and tied in place. An aluminum and plywood siding structure is then erected to protect the tree throughout the long journey, which includes dozens of promotional stops along the route.

While the gigantic spruce makes it way across the country, scientists will be monitoring its condition remotely. Before the tree was wrapped, researchers installed three HOBO data loggers into the tree’s canopy, which will automatically measure temperature every 15 minutes, providing insight into the ambient environment. In addition, Forest Service technicians will send daily samples of small twigs to WSU Puyallup, where they will be analyzed for moisture content. The data will be used to improve care and shipping recommendations for cut Christmas trees, a huge industry in the state of Washington.

Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Here’s a look at how many times each species has served as a Capitol Tree:

11 – White Spruce
8 – Engelmann Spruce
6 – Balsam Fir
6 – Douglas Fir
3 – Norway Spruce
2 – Fraser Fir
2 – Red Spruce
2 – White Pine
1 – Black Spruce
1 – Black Hills Spruce
1 – Colorado Blue Spruce
1 – Pacific Silver Fir
1 – Shasta Red Fir
1 – Sierra White Fir
1 – Subalpine Fir