Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Restoring American chestnut in coal-depressed Appalachia can spur 'cultural identity'

Abandoned coal mines in Appalachia resulted in job loss, economic depression and land ravaged by strip mining and mountaintop removal. While coal companies have been reluctant to try reforestation as a reclamation alternative, a movement is growing in many areas to restore the land's former beauty by returning the American chestnut to its full glory while giving locals a sense of pride in place. (American Chestnut Foundation photo: Chestnut trees, which once grew as high as 80 feet, are now virtually extinct.)

It's not a new project. In 2010 the American Chestnut Foundation led an effort to& plant 25,000 chestnut trees throughout the U.S. Hope was high, although experts knew it might take decades to see if the project was a success. In 2012, the foundation said it had plans to plant in all 19 states where the tree originated.

Cut to 2014, where "hardwood plantings are now increasing, thanks to the efforts of universities, environmental groups and landowners. Some are hoping to restore former mines using native species—including the American chestnuts," Jonna McKone reports for Public Radio International. "So far, tens of thousands of Chinese-American chestnuts have been planted. Early data suggests that well over 80 percent of the chestnut trees are surviving. In a few years scientists expect the chestnuts will start producing seeds to grow a second generation of trees."

And it's a much-needed project in depressed areas of Appalachia, especially in regions where coal once thrived but has since closed up shop. Nathan Hall, a reforestation coordinator for Green Forests Work, a non-profit that helps restore former coal mines by planting hardwood trees, told McKone, “As somebody who grew up here, I see every day the tremendous need for physical work for people to be engaged in. Not only for the money aspect, but also to give people something to do and a sense of cultural identity. Because as the coal mining is moving away from this area, moving out west to Montana and Wyoming, we’re left with a big question of what we do. To me there’s a big opportunity to get people back to work doing restoration and remediation of these lands.” (Read more)

1 comment:

Caroline said...

This sounds like a great idea- but wondering how they are going to deal with Chestnut blight? As far as I understand most chestnuts succumb once they reach reproductive maturity. Or have they found a strain that is resistant to the blight?