Monthly Archives: January 2018

Willamette National Forest to provide 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree

The 2017 Capital Christmas Tree is displayed on the National Mall, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

Sweet Home, Ore. – The Willamette National Forest announced today that Oregon has been selected to provide the 2018 United States Capitol Christmas Tree. A gift from the Willamette National Forest and the State of Oregon to the people of the United States, the tree will be displayed on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., with a public tree-lighting ceremony in early December 2018.

The 2018 Capital Christmas Tree logo features green trees, a snow-capped mountain, and a winding trail to represent Willamette National Forest.

The Willamette National Forest, together with Travel Oregon, has designed a logo that captures the beauty of the State of Oregon and the Willamette National Forest, with its snowcapped mountain, fields of green and lush forests. The trail leading to the tree symbolizes the adventurous spirit of Oregonians since early settlers first traversed the Oregon Trail. The logo encourages modern-day adventurers to #FindYourTrail in the Willamette National Forest. For more information: Capitol Christmas Tree website,

Every year since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has provided the Capitol Christmas Tree. This year, the Capitol Christmas Tree will be cut from the Sweet Home Ranger District. Seventy smaller companion trees will also be sent to Washington, D.C., to decorate government buildings and public spaces this December. Additionally, Oregonians will contribute 10,000 handmade ornaments, to be created throughout 2018. These ornaments will celebrate the state’s cultural history and people, landscapes, natural resources, and fish and wildlife.

The theme for the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree is “Find Your Trail!” in recognition of two 2018 anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, and the 175th commemoration of the Oregon Trail.

“We are thrilled to be delivering the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, and we invite all Oregonians to be a part of this special experience throughout 2018—from making an ornament to exploring the Willamette National Forest with family and friends—in search of the perfect tree to send to Washington, D.C.,” said Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home District Ranger, Willamette National Forest.

“There is a rich history of Oregon’s forests providing for the needs of Oregonians. The Willamette National Forest provides recreational opportunities, fishing, hunting, mushroom harvesting, firewood, minerals, wood products and, of course, Christmas trees. We hope this yearlong Capitol Christmas Tree event inspires people to explore the National Forests across Oregon, and to ‘Find Your Trail,’” she continued.

The last time Oregon was chosen to provide the Capitol Christmas Tree was in 2002, when a tree was selected from the Umpqua National Forest.

“We are very honored to have been chosen to provide the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, and to share some of our state’s incredible beauty with the rest of America,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown. “Majestic, towering conifers have long stood as an icon of Oregon’s magnificent forests. This tree will symbolize our rich natural resources, our deep Native American heritage, and the people of Oregon, who are known for their independent spirit, innovation and love for our state’s diverse landscapes.”

For more information:

Capitol Christmas Tree (official site):
Willamette National Forest:

Get involved!

Oregonians and Oregon visitors are invited to participate in U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree activities around the state during 2018, including helping to find the perfect tree to go to Washington, D.C.

  • Find the tree! The public is invited to hike and drive the Willamette National Forest—outside of the City of Sweet Home—to look for the perfect Capitol Christmas Tree. To submit a potential candidate tree, GPS the location, snap a photo, and send the submission to, or drop your information off at the Sweet Home Ranger District Office.
    • Guidelines: The perfect tree is 65 to 85 feet in height with a conical shape that is visually pleasing from all angles. The tree must reside on U.S. Forest Service land in the Sweet Home Ranger District, preferably close to a road that will allow for access for a semi-truck and cranes to harvest the tree.
    • Submission deadline: May 2018.
    • Don’t forget to share your adventures on social media (Facebook and Twitter) with the #USCapitolChristmasTree, #FindYourTrail and #ItsAllYours hashtags!
  • Join an ornament-making event or host your own. Ten thousand handmade ornaments will adorn the Capitol Christmas Tree and the 70 smaller companion trees.
    • There will be ornament-making events throughout Oregon in 2018. The first event will take place on January 20 at the Boys & Girls Club in Sweet Home (1 p.m.; 890 18th Ave.).
    • The Willamette National Forest also invites schools, churches and community groups to contribute ornaments. There will be templates and instructions posted on the website and social media. For a schedule of events and further details, visit
  • See the Capitol Christmas Tree as it travels along the Oregon Trail in November 2018. The travel route, schedule and special events will be available at

For more information about how to get involved, email us here.

Hitting the trail with the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree: Journey to Washington, D.C.

Help us celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail when you visit the Capital Christmas Tree on it’s journey. In November, a modern-day wagon train carrying the Christmas tree and ornaments will begin its eastward journey from Sweet Home, following the Oregon Trail in reverse, stopping in a variety of communities across Oregon and the country before arriving in Washington, D.C. The travel route, schedule and special events will be available at

The Willamette National Forest has partnered with Choose Outdoors and Travel Oregon for the Capitol Christmas Tree project, and a host of partners, sponsors, and volunteers will contribute funding and thousands of hours to help make ornaments and transport the tree from Oregon to Washington, D.C.

How the Tradition began:

The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964 when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. McCormack (D-MA) placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage.

In 1970, the Capitol Architect asked the U.S. Forest Service to provide a Christmas tree. Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide “The People’s Tree.” This national forest also works with state forests to provide companion trees that are smaller Christmas trees for offices in Washington, D.C.

The Willamette National Forest in Oregon will provide the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

Capitol Christmas Tree

About the Willamette National Forest:

The Willamette National Forest in Oregon will provide the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

At nearly 1.7 million acres in size, the Willamette National Forest spans along the western slopes of the Cascade Range in western Oregon. This special landscape features seven major peaks, two Wild and Scenic Rivers, eight wilderness areas, several historic lava flows and hundreds of high-elevation lakes.

The forest boasts an array of conifer species, including large stands of Douglas fir, the official state tree of Oregon. It’s also home to more than 300 species of fish and wildlife, from the northern spotted owl to Roosevelt elk.

Take in the forest’s impressive vistas along two National Scenic Byways. Choose a hike from 1,700 miles of trail, including four National Recreation Trails. Mountain bike on world-famous singletrack. Discover gushing waterfalls. Sleep under the stars at 70 developed campgrounds. Ski and snowshoe at winter recreation areas. The story begins at the Willamette National Forest.

USDA Forest Service and partners pose at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree kickoff event Jan. 19, 2018.

The team behind the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree pose at the Jan. 19, 2018 kickoff event. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service, Willamette National Forest staff

Eagle Creek Fire: National Forest trails update

Image of hikers surrounded by scorched trees on a section of trail affected by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Trees on this section of Herman Creek Trail bear scorch marks from last year's Eagle Creek fire in this January 18, 2018 photo.

Trees on this section of Herman Creek Trail bear scorch marks from last year’s Eagle Creek fire in this Jan. 18, 2018 photo. To help get a jump on the work, the U.S. Forest Service is teaming up with the newly formed Gorge Trails Recovery Team and other partners to involve experienced volunteers in trail repair. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill.

Columbia River Gorge, Ore. – U.S. Forest Service crews and partners have made progress assessing more than 20 miles of trails on National Forest System lands within the Eagle Creek Burned Area, and volunteers have begun to help repair trails east of Cascade Locks.

Crews found a range of conditions from low burn severity to treacherous sections where washouts, landslides, and heavily burned conditions make trails hard to follow. Trails assessed first had relatively lower burn severities, gentler terrain, and/or lower risks of debris flows. All of these trails remain closed to the public at this time, due to post-fire hazards on the landscape.

Among trails assessed so far, those that fared best include parts of Gorge 400 Trail, Gorton Creek Trail, Herman Creek Trail, Ridge Cutoff 437, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Repair work has begun on some of these trails already, but none of them yet has an expected date for reopening.

Other trails did not fare so well. About 90% of Larch Mountain Trail – the popular trail that starts at Multnomah Falls – is covered with rocks along its route to the Upper Viewing Platform, and is in poor shape through its full loop with Wahkeena Trail. Nick Eaton Trail is badly burned and difficult to follow, with up to 75% of the trail needing repairs. The rock wall at the base of the short Return Trail from Wahkeena Trail to Multnomah Falls has been undercut due to burned vegetation and rock slides. The Horsetail-Oneonta Loop Hike is in treacherous shape, with large washouts and landslides making the trail difficult to follow. Crews were unable to complete their assessment of Wahclella Trail, which is also in poor condition.

An experienced trails group worked on sections of the Pacific Crest Trail January 18, 2018.

An experienced trails group worked on sections of the Herman Creek Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail Jan. 18, 2018. Trained and experienced volunteers work within the closure area, while new volunteers are invited to learn skills, gain experience, and help with trail maintenance in unburned areas. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill

One piece of welcome news: crews have confirmed that the Upper Viewing Platform at Multnomah Falls survived the fire intact.

Findings from each trail assessment to date can be found the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area website at:

Recreation officials are hopeful that some of the federal trails east of Cascade Locks may be able to reopen this spring and summer, but no specific timeframe is available and work is highly weather dependent. New landslides and washouts could cause setbacks by creating further damage.

Trails west of Multnomah Falls, currently in poor condition, are a high priority for repair due to their popularity. Timelines for reopening west end trails remain highly uncertain at this time, as they will need intensive repair and rebuilding.

Finally, trails within the core area of the fire between Multnomah Falls and Herman Creek were the most severely burned and some trails may take several years to reopen. Many of the remaining trails in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area will not be assessed until the winter freeze/thaw cycle and heavy rains have subsided in late spring.

To help get a jump on the work, the U.S. Forest Service is teaming up with the newly formed Gorge Trails Recovery Team and other partners to involve experienced volunteers in trail repair.

“Normally, our trail crews don’t work during winter because conditions are constantly creating new damage, but by enlisting the help of volunteers, we’re hoping to accelerate the reopening process,” said Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the national scenic area.

A scorched Pacific Crest Trail marker remains affixed to a burned, fallen log in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, following the Eagle Creek fire.

A scorched Pacific Crest Trail marker remains affixed to a burned, fallen log in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, following the Eagle Creek fire. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill.

While scouting the trails, teams observed post-fire hazards such as smoldering stump holes, standing dead trees weakened by fire, uphill boulders loosened by vegetation, and rock fall and debris flow across trails that make them nearly impassable in places and require off trail scrambling. Personnel working in the burned area are required to wear protective equipment and observe other strict safety protocols to mitigate these hazards. Before these trails can open to the public, trail repairs and stabilizations will need to be put into place.

Only trained and experienced volunteers are allowed to work within the closed area as part of approved work outings organized in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. However, new volunteers can learn skills, gain experience, and help with trail maintenance in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area outside of the burned area.

Learn more by visiting

More information about the fire closure and post-fire response can be found on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area website at and at or by following the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area social media accounts at or

An experienced work crew pauses in front of a trail sign during volunteer work on the Herman Creek Trail Jan. 18, 2018.

An experienced work crew pauses during volunteer work on the Herman Creek Trail Jan. 18, 2018. These initial trail work parties, with experienced and trained volunteers, are working to create a safe corridor along a four-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail to help restore the trail following damage caused by the 2017 Eagle Creek fire. Courtesy photo provided by Terry Hill.

Forest Feature: Owls

Great horned owl

Owls, members of the order Strigiformus, are amazing creatures – and Pacific Northwest “Forest Feature” for the month of January! Their piercing gaze, sharp hearing, sharper talons, strong beaks, and powerful night vision, and ability to rotate their head to take in a near- 360 degree views place the order’s approximately 200 species among nature’s greatest hunters, and contribute to their perch as one of the world’s most fascinating birds.

In the Pacific Northwest, owls you might encounter include the Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Western Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Spotted Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Western Burrowing Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Boreal Owl, and the Flammulated Owl, and Northern Hawk Owl.

Western screech owl

Some of these owls are commonly found in our region. If you live or have visited Washington and Oregon, you may have heard the Great Horned Owl’s “hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo.” If you are up just before dawn, you could hear a Barn Owl’s scream, or the Western Screech Owl – whose signature call sounds like a cross between a cat’s purr and a whistle!

But there are other native northwest owls that you are less likely to hear, because they are in need of conservation help. Most notably, the Northern Spotted Owl is listed as a threatened under both the Oregon and federal Endangered Species Acts.

Northern Spotted Owl Olympic NF

The spotted owl faces habitat loss and increased competition for the range that remains from the Barred Owl, originally an eastern U.S. species, which has expanded its range west in recent decades.

The Great Gray, Short-eared, Flammulated and Western Burrowing Owls are also listed as species of conservation concern in the Oregon Conservation Strategy.


Project: Build a Barn Owl nest box!

The Barn Owl is a stealthy hunter, who silently stalks mice, gophers, and ground squirrels at night. Farmers sometimes encourage owls to nest in barns and other areas on their property, because they eat the rodents that damage crops!

Barn owls don’t build nests, but they lay eggs in small holes inside rotted trees, along rocky cliffs, or on bluffs in late summer and early fall. If natural sites are not available, they seek out barns, silos, and abandoned buildings… or, you can encourage them to nest by offering a suitable nesting box!

Instructions: How to build a Barn Owl nest box

Fun facts about OWLS:

  • Have you ever heard someone called a “night owl?” Actually, most – but not all – owls are most active at night!
  • The smallest northwest owl is the Northern Pygmy Owl. It’s only 7 inches tall! (It’s also one of the only owls that’s active during the day).
  • The Western Burrowing Owl got its name because it’s the only North American owl that nests underground, usually in dens abandoned by other animals.
  • Snowy owls are uncommon in Washington and Oregon, they usually prefer the arctic circle. (They also are daylight hunters! And the Barred Owl also hunts during the daytime, and lives in the northwest).
  • A Great Horned Owl can stand one-and-a-half to nearly two feet tall, and has a wingspan of three to four feet!
  • The “wise owl” is a symbol that may date back to ancient Greece. The owl was the symbol of the goddess Athena, who represented wisdom. (The northwest’s Boreal Owl gets its name from another ancient Greek deity, Boreas – god of the wind. In other cultures, including Roman civilization and many Native American cultures in the Pacific Northwest, owls’ haunting calls and typically evening hunting habits may have inspired their symbolic association with death and as messengers for the spirit world or from the afterlife).


Did you know…?

Woodsy Owl has helped the Forest Service keep America informed about how to help the environment since 1970: “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” “Lend a hand, care for the land!” Woodsy first appeared on TV in 1971 in a public service announcement that aired during an episode of “Lassie.” (At the time, the long-running series featured the famous collie’s adventures with a Forest Service Ranger and his family).

Woodsy Owl Lady Bird Johnson

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at