Monday, September 28, 2009

Blight-resistant chestnut trees thriving after first growing season in natural forest environments

The first saplings of chestnut trees bred to resist the blight that killed almost all their forebears, and grown in natural forest environments, "are thriving after their first growing season in three national forests," Greenwire's Phil Taylor reports. "While scientists are confident the trees will survive exposure to the fungus, they won't know for sure until at least five or 10 years," according to American Chestnut Foundation CEO Bryan Burhans.

Why should we care about restoring the chestnut? It was a magnificent tree and "an integral part of the Appalachian culture, providing food for wildlife and contributing to the diversity of the forest ecosystem," Roger Williams, director of forest management for the U.S. Forest Service's Southern region, told Taylor. The service has a Web site that explains a lot more. (USFS photo: Chestnut sapling about four feet tall)

Also, "A recent study also suggests that the tree's rapid growth rate makes it one of the best sponges for greenhouse gases," Taylor notes. "Purdue University professor Douglass Jacobs' work suggests that the tree's superior carbon capacity makes it an ideal candidate for forest restoration projects and carbon-offset schemes, particularly on marginal farmland in the Midwest." (Read more) The University of Tennessee is working with the forest service and the foundation on the restoration project, which has planted trees at undisclosed locations in national forests in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

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