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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Restoring A Forest, One Tree At A Time

Restoring A Forest, One Tree At A Time

Chestnut trees ca. late 1800's (credit: Forest History Society)

When European colonists arrived in North America chestnut forests (Castanea dentata) stretched from Maine to Georgia and extended into the Midwest. This forest dominance began to change at the beginning of the 20th Century. Once numbering in the billions across this vast range, the chestnuts began to perish when a fungal blight was inadvertently introduced from Asia. The trees had not evolved any genetic resistance to this fungal pathogen. By the 1950's, virtually all chestnut trees in the USA were dead. Their demise was likely one of America's greatest ecological disasters considering the importance chestnuts played as a keystone species for forest biodiversity along with economic losses from their importance as timber, in maintaining water supplies, and as food.

Their situation may be about to change. Research underway at the American Chestnut Foundation has the goal to produce a blight resistant tree. The American Chestnut Research & Restoration Project, based at the College of Environmental Science & Forestry based at SUNY, aims to rescue, propagate, and replant chestnut trees to their former glory. Using traditional plant breeding combined with advanced biotechnology the goal of this ambitious project is restoration of degraded landscapes with this iconic American tree. William A. Powell and Rex Mann discuss the chestnut project and their goal of restoring the tree nationwide.

The goal will require decades of effort but with so many denuded landscapes in the Eastern United States, the Appalachian mountains, and across the South, you could soon have the opportunity to plant some blight resistant chestnut saplings yourself. It sounds like a good project to join. WHB

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