American Chestnut Restoration Project Unique Places Helps Facilitate Largest American Chestnut Restoration Project in History Posted on March 1, 2016 by UPLLC

Chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) was first discovered in the United States in 1905 and killed more than four billion American chestnuts from Maine to Georgia. To put that more tangibly, that’s 12 times the population of the United States! Chestnut blight is very virulent and the native population of American chestnuts has little resistance to its effects.  Because of this lack of resistance, no one has been able to successfully replant American chestnuts on a large scale.

The American Chestnut Foundation started a tree improvement program in the 1980’s in an attempt to develop a hybrid tree with American chestnut appearance and Chestnut blight resistance. For the past 30 years, the American Chestnut Foundation has been “backcrossing” chestnuts and has developed their third generation intercross. These trees are almost indistinguishable from pure American chestnuts, but show a high level of blight-resistance. In partnership with the American Chestnut Foundation, Unique Places has made impressive strides in facilitating a reintroduction of American chestnuts in Western North Carolina.

From October 2015 to January 2016, Unique Places planted 30,000 backcross hybrid American chestnuts. This is the largest single American chestnut restoration planting effort in history! Integrating findings from research conducted by Jason Payne, Unique Places’ Director of Conservation Forestry, the restoration design focused on new, cutting edge forestry techniques developed by Unique Places.  Instead of focusing on clear cutting mountain tops for restoration plantings, seedlings were deployed in existing forests to grow, thrive and reproduce in natural conditions. Unique Places was able to integrate seedlings into existing forested areas by removing understory brush and planting seedlings in small canopy gaps. In addition, seedlings were predominately planted on ridge tops in an effort to optimize seed dispersal.

Early findings show a higher survival rate with more conservative growth when planted underneath and among larger trees in thinned forests. We are excited to see this amazing historic restoration effort continue on a path to success.


Tags:  Conservation  Land Management  Forest  
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