FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 02, 2011
RUPERT, WV – The West Virginia Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation planted more than 650 of its most promising blight-resistant American chestnut trees Saturday, April 30th, on MeadWestvaco lands near Rupert, as part of a species restoration project funded through a Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) conservation grant.
The American chestnut tree once produced high-value wood products, such as furniture and rail ties, and was a valuable food source for a wide variety of wildlife from bears to birds. An estimated four billion trees were lost to an exotic, Asian, fungal disease (chestnut blight) during the first half of the 20th century. “The trees planted Saturday are the result of more than 30 years of scientific research for blight resistance and American chestnut growth characteristics,” said Jimmy Jenkins, President of the West Virginia Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation. “Partnerships with organizations like SFI and MWV are invaluable in our efforts to restore this important species.”
“The return of the American chestnut to its former range in the Appalachian hardwood forest ecosystem is a major restoration project,” said Bryan Burhans, President and CEO of The American Chestnut Foundation. “Only through the continued effort of our 6,000 members and volunteers, partners, and research, can we eventually realize our goal of the American chestnut once again being an essential component of our forests.”
Volunteers from the West Virginia Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation planted the trees alongside partners from MWV, SFI, Glenville State College forestry students, West Virginia Division of Forestry, Meadow River Watershed Association, and the West Virginia SFI State Implementation Committee. The project, with funding through the SFI Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant Program, will eventually result in the planting of about 3,000 American chestnut trees in the southeastern United States, as well as the collection and utilization of baseline information which will facilitate the process of species restoration.
“As a company committed to effective and sustainable management of forestlands, MWV welcomes the opportunity to be part of this tremendous effort to restore the American chestnut,” said Gene Hundley, President, MWV Forestry.
“Restoring this magnificent tree to its historic range is one way we can demonstrate the value of bringing together informed partners to advance important research,” said SFI President and CEO Kathy Abusow. “This project addresses so many SFI Standard requirements – including research, conservation of biodiversity, managing wildlife habitat, and protecting threatened and endangered species.”
Backgrounder: The American Chestnut Tree
The American chestnut tree was once an essential component of the entire eastern United States ecosystem. An estimated four billion American chestnuts were lost to chestnut blight and nearly 200 million from Maine to Florida and west to the Ohio Valley, making up one quarter of the hardwood tree population within this range.
A late-flowering, reliable, and productive tree, unaffected by seasonal frosts, it was the single most valuable food source for a wide variety of wildlife from bears to birds. Rural communities depended upon the annual nut harvest as a cash crop to feed livestock. The chestnut lumber industry was a major sector of rural economies. Chestnut wood is straight-grained and easily worked, lightweight and highly rot-resistant, making it ideal for fence posts, railroad ties, barn beams and home construction, as well as for fine furniture and musical instruments.
By 1950, the most American chestnut trees succumbed to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight. The blight, imported to the United States on Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus dispersed via spores in the air, raindrops or animals. It enters through a fresh injury in the tree’s bark, spreads into the bark and underlying vascular cambium and wood, and kills these tissues as it advances. The flow of nutrients is eventually choked off to and from sections of the tree above the infection, killing them.
The return of the American chestnut to its former range in the Appalachian hardwood forest ecosystem is a major restoration project that requires a multi-faceted effort involving 6,000 members and volunteers, research, sustained funding and most important, a sense of the past and a hope for the future.
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About The American Chestnut Foundation
The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF ) is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 by a group of prominent plant scientists who recognized the severe impact the demise of the American chestnut tree had on the economy of rural communities and the ecology of forests in woodlands of the eastern United States. Its mission is to restore the American chestnut tree in its native range, using a scientific research and breeding program developed by its founders. The American Chestnut Foundation harvested its first potentially blight-resistant nuts in 2005, and has begun reforestation trials with potentially blight-resistant American-type trees.
Director of Communications
The American Chestnut Foundation