Ericson Logging and Nortrax John Deere Team up to Harvest WI State Christmas Tree

Publish Date: 
November 21, 2011

By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram

Snowflakes drifted to the ground Wednesday afternoon as Max Erickson quickly sawed through branches of a balsam fir.

Max Erickson moves a Balsam Fir limb that will go as filler for the Christmas Tree at the State Capitol Building in Madison. The tree, which was cut from the Brule River State Forest near Solon Springs on Wednesday afternoon, was harvested by the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association and NORTRAX. (Jed Carlson/

The fourth-generation logger had the tree stripped within minutes, and volunteers stacked the branches on the bed of a semitrailer before turning their attention to a nearby tree — a 36-foot balsam fir that will serve as Wisconsin’s official state Christmas tree.

Dave Schulz, superintendent of the Brule River State Forest, selected this year’s tree.

“It’s not that easy to find one that’s good all the way around,” Schulz said. “It’s not like in my home where I can put a tree in the corner. This one goes right in the center of the Capitol rotunda; it’s 360-degree viewing.”

The last time the Brule River State Forest provided the state Christmas tree was 2004. Schulz was involved in selecting the tree that year too, and he said, the property was chosen again this year because of its high volume of balsam fir.

“The state forest program was asked to supply a tree for the state Capitol, and they came calling here looking to see if we’d be able to find one and supply one,” Schulz said. “A lot of the southern parts of the state don’t have balsam fir — it’s only this northern tier of counties, particularly in the northwest part of the state.”

The two trees taken from the Brule River State Forest were harvested along Stone Chimney Road just north of Solon Springs. One will serve as the official state Christmas tree and the other — similar in size and color — will provide spare branches.

The Christmas tree and accompanying branches began their journey to Madison Wednesday, hauled on a semitrailer provided by Erickson Logging and Trucking.

In Madison, carpenters will go over the state Christmas tree and fill in bare spaces with the extra boughs. The Capitol grounds crew then faces the challenge of squeezing the 36-foot tree through the Capitol doors and into the rotunda to be decorated.

“It’s an interesting process to get a rope on it and pull it in the door,” said Steve Green, a grounds keeper at the Capitol.

The Wisconsin state tree will be set up in the rotunda Nov. 28 and decorated throughout the week, culminating with a tree lighting ceremony Dec. 2.

Wisconsin students have been asked to make decorations for this year’s tree. Teachers or students interested in displaying ornaments on the tree must make submissions by Dec. 1, and the ornaments must reflect the “Honoring 163 years of Wisconsin’s Veterans” theme. The ornaments can be mailed to: Governor Walker’s Office, State Christmas Tree Ornament Program, P.O. Box 7863, Madison, WI 53707-7863.

This year’s tree — a 36-foot tall balsam fir about 30 to 35 years old — has a faint blue tint and a nice full shape. It’s one Schulz, noticed during his work on the property and kept in mind as candidate for the state Christmas tree.

“I kind of knew there were some nice ones from working here,” Schulz said. “It’s open-grown, and if they’re grown out in the open, they tend to be a little deeper color than something that’s grown in the woods.”

Erickson, of Erickson Logging and Trucking, has been involved in the harvesting of four state trees, the first back in 1998 when Gov. Tommy Thompson was in office.

“This is the second time we’ve hauled it, and we’ve cut it four times — before it was with our machines,” Erickson said. NORTRAX provided the equipment to harvest this year’s tree, and members of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association oversaw the process.

Erickson, a member of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, said the past few months have been busy for timber professionals scrambling to clean up and salvage huge swaths of timber that fell during a severe windstorm in July.

“I’ve been in the forest up here 50 years, and I’ve never seen the forest so devastated as it is,” Erickson said. “Burnett County and the southwestern part of Douglas County really got slammed.

“We’ve survived forest fires and we’ve survived tornadoes — we’ve survived all kinds of stuff and I’m sure we’re going to survive this,” Erickson said.

The Brule River State Forest escaped any significant damage from the summer storm. This year’s State Capitol Christmas tree, however, is the survivor of a past storm.

“There was a big hail storm here 10 years ago,” Schulz said. “The timber in this direction is all young (because) it was all killed by that big hail storm. This was on the fringe of it.”

Schulz said the pelting ice actually pruned the balsam fir, giving it the full, conical shape it has today.

Local residents beginning their search for a tree can also head to the Brule River State Forest to select, cut and haul away a balsam fir.

The state forest offers a limited number of $5 permits each season to harvest a tree. Permits can be purchased at the Brule Ranger Station, 6250 S. Ranger Road

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