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Sunday, April 12, 2009

American Chestnut Trees for the Wayne NF

planting chestnut seedlings
Gary Willison assists Jamie Grinch, a Boy Scout from Troop 73 from Grandview, Ohio to plant a chestnut seedling. (photo from USFS)
excerpted from National Forest Success Stories "American Chestnut Trees Planted on National Forest Reclaimed Mine Lands," by Gary Chancey, April 4, 2009, used with permission

Special American chestnut seedlings developed by US Forest Service Research are planted on the Wayne National Forest, in SE Ohio, with hopes for better survival, growth and development of seedlings.

Almost one-thousand blight resistant American chestnut trees and 200 disease resistant American elm trees were planted in early April by Boy Scouts from Columbus, Ohio, as well as Forest employees from the Watershed Restoration Group and local volunteers.

The seedlings were planted on a piece of reclaimed mine land that was restored last year in Athens County. The Forest planted 600 American chestnut trees on the Ironton and Athens Ranger District in 2008. This year, the Forest estimates 3000 of the trees will be planted by the end of April on both districts. The project is in partnership with researchers from the U.S. Forest Service Research Lab in Delaware, Ohio.

The American chestnut tree was nearly wiped out by a blight that killed an estimated four billion trees in the eastern United States in the early 20th century. The naturally surviving trees remain vulnerable to the fungus, however through years of cross breeding with its disease-resistant counterpart, the Chinese chestnut; researchers are seeking to develop a blight-resistant American chestnut.

The American Chestnut Foundation's backcross breeding program produces seed that combines the disease-resistant traits of the Chinese chestnut with the superior size and timber traits of the American chestnut. In order for the seedlings to grow in the poor soil conditions of the reclaimed mines, Forest Service Researchers inoculate the chestnut seedlings with mycorrhizal fungi that will aid in the survival, growth and development of the seedlings.

Mycorrhizal fungi play a vital role in reforestation by providing the plant several benefits that are critical for its survival and growth in a nutrient poor and hostile environment such as in reclaimed mined sites.

The re-establishment of native vegetation like the American Chestnut & American Elm has been made a priority for the Wayne National Forest. In the Forest's 2006 Land and Resource Management Plan, it lists the Forest's initiative to promote the planting of disease-resistant species on the Wayne as varieties become available.

Editors note: there are a number of places along the NCT in New York where resistant chestnut trees are growing

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