TACF is on the hunt for new sources of wild American chestnut. If you want to help us map these living trees for our restoration work please check out our Report a Tree page.
If you would like to invite our representative to talk about this initiative please email Jean Najjar at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reports of historical sites are welcome too!
Recently, we received an email with photos and a story about American chestnut snag at Cook Forest State Park. Many thanks to Jacqueline Goslin for sharing these images and her interest in the American chestnut.
The plaque reads: This snag or dead tree, has been standing since it was killed by the chestnut blight that moved through Pennsylvania, by the early 1920’s. The wood of this tree was very rot resistant and prized in the early lumber industry. It was used to build just about anything from tool handles to houses. The Civilian Conservation Corps CCC, salvaged some of these dead chestnut trees to build many of the park’s cabins, shelters, and the Log Cabin Inn Environmental Learning Classroom from 1933-1937.
Wildlife, such as turkey, bear, deer, and squirrels depended on this tree for food. It was a very fast-growing tree. Many trees that were felled in the logging era (1820-1920) averaged six feet in diameter. The largest chestnut tree ever recorded before felling was 54 feet in circumference, which makes it about 18 feet across.
Tom Pugel, the American Chestnut Warrior by Clark Beebe (Excerpt reprinted from ExxonMobil Retiree Online Community Newsletter)
The American Chestnut’s demise was a disaster to which ExxonMobil retiree Tom pu Pugel keenly was aware his entire life; something he always wanted to help reverse if possible. Tom’s father, Mike, immigrated from Slovenia in 1921 at the age of 23. Mike was a logger. Some of his first work involved cutting dead American chestnut trees killed by the blight in Southwest PA. When Mike found a live sprout, he brought it home and planted it behind the house. Thus, the young immigrant’s son became inspired to reverse the blight’s impact and save the American Chestnut.
Tom’s hands-on upbringing with American Chestnuts, including gaining a visceral
understanding of the true consequences of chestnut blight provided the perfect foundation for Tom to begin working to realize his dream of reversing the blight. In 1970, Tom planted a dozen American Chestnuts at his parent’s western Pennsylvania home. At the time it was thought and hoped that the American Chestnut eventually would develop resistance as it cycled through multiple generations of trees. Tom’s goal was hoped to start that effort and get in at three or four generations during his lifetime.
Many of the trees that Tom originally planted in 1970 still survive; however, not as mature trees, but instead as re-sprouts, as successive stems got the blight and died back. Tom learned that the blight fungus only kills the tree above ground; the roots are unaffected and generally send up another stem. Unfortunately, the new stem is equally susceptible to the blight, but it can take years before it gets infected and dies back. The American Chestnut’s vigorous ability to re-sprout has enabled it to persist for over a century; but alas, only later to succumb to the blight. The result is there still are millions of trees in the woods; however, most are one-inch diameter sprouts which, some cases, come from 200 plus year old roots.
Fighting the Battle
Joining The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) in 1992 and then becoming a founding member of the Pennsylvania/NJ Chapter in 1994, gave Tom a new avenue to pursue his that dream.
TACF has nearly 5,000 members. Some members are also growers, and together, account for more than 500 orchards from Maine to Alabama. Tom is both a member and a grower. He has eight orchards total in both eastern and western Pennsylvania, and they range in size from 10 to 150 trees. The oldest was planted in 1997. Tom’s orchards are working cogs in the massive undertaking of restoring the American Chestnut to its native range.
Become an American Chestnut Soldier
Tom invites you to participate join in the battle to save the American Chestnut by joining TACF. As a grower, Tom is a “warrior” in this effort. Tom realizes, however, that not everyone may share his passion, so instead welcomes you to join TACF and become a “soldier.” Membership dues support TACF’s mission, as deer fences and orchard maintenance cost money. Beyond membership there are many volunteer opportunities, as well. Volunteers are needed for planting, collecting pollen, pollinating and inoculating, but also for writing, speaking and staffing outreach efforts at schools and public events. Sometimes the need simply is to help stuff envelopes. Whatever your abilities, whatever you can offer, TACF will use and appreciate your talents!
Each year we ask our interns to share a bit about themselves with our members. We ask them about their interests and plans for the future. Our 2020 intern shares a long standing connection with our favorite tree and how he came to join our restoration movement.
The American chestnut has been a part of my life since I was eleven. On a trip to visit my uncle, he took me hunting for a tree that had been located in the area. On that journey he educated me about the history of chestnut trees and a little about The American Chestnut Foundation(TACF ). After that experience with him, I knew that I wanted to be a part of the effort in restoring this tree.
After graduating high school, I was accepted at Penn State to pursue a degree in forestry. I volunteered with the foundation throughout college which interested me in the foundation’s efforts. The year before graduation, I was hired as an intern and have been here ever since.
Seeing the passion and hope in the volunteers is what motivated me to stay. This position has given me a multitude of experiences in taking care of the orchards and individual trees. The rewards from these experiences are motivators to do the best I can to serve our volunteers and our ecosystem. I enjoy contributing to the restoration of the American chestnut and am thankful for the opportunities the foundation and volunteers have presented me.
In order to stay connected with members and supporters during this unprecedented time, TACF has started a new online Chestnut Chat Series on Friday mornings. The first Chat of this series was held on Friday, April 17th. If you missed this first installment you can catch up here.
We invite you to join us for future Chats. Links and descriptions can be found on the TACF website along with recordings of past Chats. Follow this link.
Early in January, what seems like the distant past, several volunteers came to the greenhouse at the Forest Resource Lab in State College, PA to help planting chestnuts. Over 5,000 seeds were planted. As of April 23, we have over 1,800 seedlings to be screened through the SSA process with inoculations occurring in June. Adapting to the current situation we will also be adding 600 seedlings to the SSA’s that would have been planted into the Arboretum orchards. Screening these 600 seedlings should reduce the number to be planted by 25%-50%.
The orchards are beginning to break dormancy. Over the coming weeks there will be mowing, and other maintenance activities. The orchards are about 75% complete with the latest round of rouging with several thousand stems removed.
This year is the start of an effort to graft American chestnut scion material onto American, hybrid, and other various root stocks to be planted in the Arboretum at Penn State as a new GCO. To date we have approximately 50 grafts with goals of at least 100 grafts this year.
Many of you are already aware that ongoing chestnut restoration research at the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) involves a transgenic technology in which a single wheat gene is inserted into an American chestnut. This gene enables the American chestnut to tolerate the fungus that causes the blight, resulting in a tree that is 99.999% American chestnut. Gabriel Popkin, a top notch science writer, took over a year to look at the key issues and the quest to save the American chestnut from extinction. His article “Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back the American Chestnut?”appeared in the NY Times on April 30th.
ESF’s breakthough discovery is embodied in the blight tolerant Darling 58 American chestnut. After years of research and environmental testing, earlier this year, ESF applied to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to allow the Darling 58 tree to be used for restoration plantings outside restricted orchards. USDA/APHIS’s review will include a 60 day public comment period. The comment period will open later this year. It is open to everyone, yet the regulators will place a great deal of weight on the safety and efficacy of the tree, by focusing on comments from the scientific and technical community, as required by statute.
Jim Searing, PA/NJ Chapter Vice President and a member of the TACF Science and Technology Committee, has been working with others from across TACF to reach out to the scientific community and environmental and scientific organizations who understand the importance of restoring this tree to eastern forests. As soon as USDA/APHIS opens the public comment period, both TACF and the chapter will be communicating with our members, volunteers, orchard owners and people who have expressed support for our mission with information on how you can participate in the public comment process.
If you have questions, or if you have a scientific background in forests, genomics, or ecology and would like to participate in the public comment period, please email Jim Searing at email@example.com