Restoring Iconic Tree Species

April 2020

Trees can move us to action, especially those species that epitomize a treasured landscape. Whether fostering appreciation of those we find beautiful and useful or seeking to restore those in danger of disappearing, the link between people and trees thrives and grows. This month, our web features stories about a scientist, research, and a partnership that focus on restoring iconic tree species.

Environmental Education

Champion black cherry tree.Learn about America’s biggest trees at American Forests’ National Register of Champion Trees.

Featured Scientist

Leila Pinchot

Leila Pinchot in an elm orchard.Making a difference on the landscape drives Leila Pinchot, a research ecologist at the Northern Research Station’s Delaware, Ohio laboratory since 2014. “My work is very applied. That’s an important piece of what I do,” she said.

Pinchot’s research is currently focused on restoration of two iconic tree species of eastern forests – American elm and American chestnut. She works on a seven-person team that is developing elm varieties that are resistant to Dutch elm disease, where her specialty is studying how improved elm varieties perform in different field settings. But the American chestnut is the tree that drew her into a science career.

When Pinchot was in high school, her father showed her an American chestnut on their family property and shared the story of its history and the species’ decline. That conversation sparked her interest and she ended up volunteering for a chestnut scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Today, her research focuses on learning what silvicultural practices will allow chestnuts to thrive, when blight-resistant varieties are available for planting.

“We have opportunity to right a wrong that we caused.   More and more [human-introduced] invasive, non-native pests and pathogens are taking hold on the landscapes. Having a chance to fix that is really compelling,” she said.

Pinchot finds Forest Service research exciting because it is so applied. Getting trees and information out to managers so eventually these trees are back out in the landscape engages her most. When she is not measuring growth and survival of chestnut seedlings in Kentucky or checking on elm plantings in Ohio, she looks after family. That includes spending time outside with her 16-month old, a budding bird watcher, cooking, and occasionally visiting the family property with her dad to check on the chestnut plantations they planted there over the last 20 years. 

More information about Leila Pinchot >>

Featured Research

Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change

Tree seedlings point the way to a changing climate future.The brightly colored flags look like confetti sprinkled on a northern New Hampshire hillside, but they are revealing what future New England forests may look like. These one-acre plantings are part of a national network of silvicultural trials called the Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) project, aimed at understanding how forest ecosystems across the United States and Canada could respond to a warmer future.

The flagged seedlings will help land managers and scientists understand how today’s tree species could transition to a different mix in the future.  Plantings include nine species. Some already exist in the area, such as white pine and red spruce, and others are very rare now or not present at all, such as American chestnut and black birch.

The uncommon species are just at the northern limits of their range now but are predicted to move northward with climate change. “Managers have a sense that forests on their own might not migrate as fast as they need to,” said Paul Schaberg, Northern Research Station plant physiologist and collaborator on this study. By discovering which species survive and flourish in a forested setting, forest managers can actively facilitate change through their current management activities.

Planted in 2018, the seedlings have already returned some surprising results. “The American chestnut is doing amazingly well for a tree known to be vulnerable to winter injury,” said Schaberg. “When growth and winter injury dieback are integrated, it is among the top growing species on the site.” 

Chestnut’s recovery is especially significant, given its history.  Known as “the redwood of the East,” American chestnut dominated the forest landscape and was prized for its fine wood and abundant nut production. But it was essentially eliminated a century ago by chestnut blight. The American Chestnut Foundation supplied the seeds for this study from their stock of hybrid blight-resistant chestnuts that carry 94% American chestnut genetics.

This ASCC project, located on the 27,000-acre Dartmouth College Second College Grant, also includes treatments that explore how current forests can be managed to resist change over time or to rebound from changes in current conditions.  Tony D’Amato, University of Vermont (UVM), Chris Woodall, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, and Kevin Evans, Dartmouth College Woodlands, oversee the project and Ph.D. student Peter Clark (UVM) leads the on-the ground collaboration of forest managers and research partners.

More information on Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change – Dartmouth College, Second College Grant >>

Featured Partnership

50 years of partnership with the Walnut Council

Walnut plantation.  Photo by Keith Woeste, USDA Forest Service.Black walnut is an incredibly versatile tree that has been a favorite of tree planters for generations. It is a source of luxurious wood for furniture, piano cabinets, and crafts. Its highly shock-resistant wood is also used for gun stocks, and its nuts provide food for humans and wildlife. Walnut shells are ground and added to tires for superior grip in icy conditions – a trick that started with race car driver Bobby Unser in the 1950s. Shells are also used to clean jet engines and as a filtering agent in smokestacks. Over the years, the value of black walnut timber has consistently been among the highest of native hardwoods.

In 2020, the Northern Research Station celebrates 50 years of co-production of science with the Walnut Council, a not-for-profit association that promotes sustainable forest management and utilization of American black walnut and other high-quality fine hardwoods. The Walnut Council grew out of a 2-day walnut workshop, sponsored by Forest Service Research and Development and State and Private Forestry, that was held at Southern Illinois University in 1966. More than 225 wood industry officials, professional foresters, soil and water conservationists, and timber research specialists from State, Federal, regional, and private agencies in 28 states and Canada attended. Today, the Council has nearly 800 members from 42 states and 3 foreign countries, and the Forest Service is still a key partner in research, technology transfer, and forest management.

The collaboration was enhanced by the creation of the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center in 1998; the research unit is staffed by Forest Service and Purdue scientists and is closely affiliated with the Walnut Council. Today, there are more than 400 publications related to black walnut soil-site relationships, silviculture, breeding and genetics, forest health issues, conservation and management are available in Treesearch; most of them from scientists working in the Central Hardwoods region.

“We are highly tied to science-based forest practices, and have used general and technical documents, presentations, and field demonstrations from scientists in the Northern Research Station to provide the most current information for successful growing of hardwood trees, especially walnut,” said Liz Jackson, Executive Director of The Walnut Council. “The work of the researchers of the NRS has been foundational to the success of our organization.”

More information about the Walnut Council >>
Last updated: 04/22/2020