Whitesburg KY

Restoring American chestnuts

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is planning a new initiative to restore the American chestnut tree to sites previously mined for coal. This project, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will open a new chapter for forestry and wildlife conservation in the Appalachian coal region, says the foundation.

“As partners with The American Chestnut Foundation we can develop more and better conservation tools that can expand our conservation portfolio to benefit farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners,” said NRCS Chief Dave White.

TACF President and Chief Executive Officer Bryan Burhans said there is an estimated 750,000 acres of previously mined land that could be returned to healthy forests.

“Much of this land can be restored to high quality hardwood forests to provide valuable habitat for wildlife and valuable timber resources to support rural Appalachian communities,” said Burhans.

In addition to the NRCS, the Chestnut Foundation will work with the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) to locate old mine lands owned by private landowners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. The project will work to reforest sites using native hardwood species that include potentially blightresistant chestnut trees recently developed by TACF.

“This $1.1 million project is poised to make a big dif- ference in the eastern U.S. coal region,” said Dr. Patrick Angel with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. “The ARRI science team along with TACF scientists have invested many decades of research to develop innovate techniques to return the mine sites back to diverse, healthy, productive forests.”

Over the next three years, project cooperators will reforest 12 sites. The project faces challenges, however.

“ Many soils on mine sites in the region are compacted to the point where trees are unable to establish a root system,” said Angel. Angel and scientists have developed methods to prepare these sites for reforestation.

The American chestnut was hit by a disease, called the chestnut blight, over 100 years ago that eradicated matured chestnuts from forests. American chestnuts are commonly found throughout the eastern U.S., but as small saplings that eventually die back from the chestnut blight. Adding a potentially blight-resistant American chestnut to the planting mix represents a historical milestone.

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