American Chestnut Foundation Working To Restore The Tree To The Allegheny Highlands
Monterey, Va – The American Chestnut Foundation is looking to bring back the American Chestnut tree to the forests of the eastern United States. One hundred years ago, the chestnut was one of the most important food sources for wildlife. The chestnut was also one of the most important timber trees supplying rot resistant wood and tannins used to process animal hides into leather.
You can still find the occasional chestnut barn in the Alleghany Highlands, some over 150 years old. The chestnut blight fungus arrived in Brooklyn, New York in 1904 and within 50 years an estimated 4 billion chestnut trees were dead or dying. The American Chestnut Foundation is in the process of producing a restoration plan.
Supporters from 16 eastern states will take part in 4 regional workshops this year where suggestions will be recorded and used to develop a strategic plan for chestnut restoration. The first of these workshops was held in Staunton, Virginia earlier this month. Bryan Burhan, CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation, talks about the foundation’s beginnings.
“In 1983, the American Chestnut Foundation was established as a non-profit conservation organization with one mission; to restore the American Chestnut back to our eastern forests” says Burhan. “The American Chestnut Foundation has used a breeding program that was developed by our founders to develop a tree that has resistance to the blight, yet has all the American growth characteristics that it needs to survive in our eastern forests.”
The Foundation has 16 state chapters located from Maine to Georgia and west to the Ohio River Valley.
“We want this tree to look like a Chestnut, act like a Chestnut, but have the resistance to the blight like the Chinese currently has” says Burhan. “In order to do this the Foundation has established breeding orchards throughout the range of the Chestnut. Basically every state in the eastern US that is within the range of the American Chestnut, has a series of breeding orchards within the state, and it is that seed source that we will use for eventual restoration.”
Virginia is home to Meadowview, the main research farm operated by the American Chestnut Foundation. Thirty-four thousand trees produced by the foundation’s breeding program are planted on 160 acres. Additional research orchards have been established around the state as well.
“We have a Virginia and a West Virginia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation” says Burhan. “That’s part of our network of volunteers and ultimately will be working to help us reintroduce the American Chestnut back in our eastern forest. We’ve worked through our initial breeding program and have developed a tree that is 94% American Chestnut genetics with the remaining genetics from the Chinese Chestnut for resistance.”
The remaining workshops will be held in Sewickley PA, Portsmouth NH, and Morrison TN during the next two months.
More information on the American Chestnut Foundation is available on their website at www.acf.org.