American Chestnut reintroduction included in the Lower Cowpasture Restoration Project
For more than a year now planning has been underway on the Lower Cowpasture Restoration Project, which covers 100,000 acres in Bath and Alleghany Counties. The project contains a number of goals including watershed improvements, vegetation management, wildlife habitat improvements, non-native invasive species management and transportation improvements. An item that has been added to the project since the planning began is the reintroduction of the American Chestnut to the area. Patrick Sheridan is the District Ranger on the James River and the Warm Springs Ranger Districts.
“American Chestnut, as most folks know, was wiped out many years ago from an exotic invasion, an exotic disease,” says Sheridan. “Since then it’s been absent from the forest. It used to be a monarch in the Appalachians and just disappeared. So some of the recent efforts have been to try and raise new chestnuts with a component of resistance to that blight that affected them then. So what we hope to do on this Cowpasture Project is find different areas on the National Forest where we can plant this chestnut and watch it’s growth and determine it’s resistance to chestnut blight and, hopefully, do our part to reestablish chestnuts in the Appalachians once again.”
The American Chestnut Foundation is working with the Forest Service on this effort. The foundation is a non profit organization with a mission to restore the American Chestnut back to it’s native range. Matt Brinckman is the American Chestnut Foundation’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator.
“Well, the Lower Cowpasture Restoration Project, we’re hoping to have just a small component of the plan to involve some American Chestnut restoration,” says Brinckman. “We work regularly with the Forest Service, so this type of project is right in line with our current practices. The planning that has gone into the Lower Cowpasture Project is encouraging and so that just makes me think that a project here would be even more viable, as far as success.”
Sheridan says the Forest Service is hoping to establish chestnuts in some of the areas burned in the 2012 Rich Hole Fire and also in some of the areas they typically harvest, to see how the chestnuts will grow under those conditions.
“We’ll put in a seed order,” says Sheridan. “And we’ll get an agreement with them to do some progeny tests. And what that means is, we’ll come up with an acre or two of land that we’ll end up fencing. And we’ll plant chestnuts by seed and start raising the chestnut and determine it’s viability and it’s resistance to chestnut blight and help the American Chestnut Foundation determine how resistant and how capable these strains of chestnuts are to reestablishing themselves in the Appalachian hardwood forest.”
The US Forest Service has been working with the public on the development of the Lower Cowpasture Restoration Project.
“I’ve been really impressed with the effort the Forest Service is leading to do a little extra planning before they go into the management plan,” says Brinckman. “So I’m excited to get involved with chestnuts, because I feel it can be successful because of all the planning input that’s involved in this project.”
More information about the American Chestnut Foundation can be found online at www.acf.org