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Forest Disturbance Processes

Chestnut Restoration

How do you restore an iconic tree that has been gone for a century?
A short audio piece featuring interviews with Northern Research Station research ecologist Leila Pinchot and partners explains the research that involved students and teachers from Tidioute Community Charter School planting hybrid American chestnut seeds and seedlings on the Allegheny National Forest. This project is helping Pinchot and her colleagues better understand conditions necessary for reintroducing American chestnut and introducing students to hands-on experience in natural resource management.

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Testing Silvicultural Approaches to Reintroduce American Chestnut to the Allegheny National Forest

Research Issue

[photo:] Leila Pinchot measures chestnut tree.The American chestnut tree was once an important forest tree throughout most of the eastern United States until chestnut blight, a disease caused by the non-native fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, killed most mature chestnuts in the early 1900s. Prior to its demise, the American chestnut dominated the forest canopy; its timber was highly valued and its nuts were a highly nutritious food source for wildlife, humans, and livestock.
The fungus arrived in New York City on Asian chestnut nursery stock in the late 1800s, and chestnut blight spread quickly and inexorably into its new and defenseless host population. Although many control strategies were pursued, none were successful. As a result, within a few decades American chestnuts were reduced to living root systems with a few susceptible branches and fading memories of forest giants.

Two groups are breeding chestnuts with increased resistance to the blight - The American Chestnut Foundation and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Both use a backcross breeding technique to breed Asian and America chestnuts through six generations that ultimately yields chestnuts that are 15/16ths American, 1/16th Chinese and should have increased resistance to the chestnut blight fungus. The resistance of the chestnuts from these two breeding programs is still in the testing phase.

Our Research

Mature American chestnut vanished nearly a century ago. In forests now altered by invasive species – both plants and insects – and fragmented by urban development, how can it be successfully planted back into the landscape?

To address this question, specifically for the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), we are establishing a 10-year study to evaluate the influence of light availability and abundance of competing seedlings on long-term growth and survival of hybrid American chestnut seed and seedlings. The main objective is to test the long-term survival and growth of chestnut planted in each of the three stages of the three-stage shelterwood sequence used to regenerate oak.

Merging chestnut reintroduction with other forest management goals will help National Forests make the most use of their limited resources, which will ultimately lead to increased efforts for chestnut restoration.

Expected Outcomes

Our proposed study will evaluate long-term (10-plus years) survival and growth of 1,400 chestnut seed and seedlings planted in each of the three stages of the three-stage shelterwood harvest system commonly used to regenerate oak in the Allegheny plateau region. These treatments will create a gradient of light availability and competition from sprouts and seedlings of other hardwood species.

Results will help determine

  • how long planted chestnut seedlings can survive in low light conditions on the High Allegheny Plateau while still retaining the ability to respond quickly to increased light due to harvest,
  • how well chestnuts compete with other vegetation in varying light levels, and
  • what point in the 20-year shelterwood system sequence is optimal to plant chestnut seedlings.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

Research Partners

Last Modified: May 15, 2017