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Dutch Elm Disease

Elms Rooted in Resilience Planted at Flight 93 National Memorial

Large surviving elm tree. Delaware, OH, April 20, 2013 - American elm trees developed by U.S. Forest Service scientists from elms that survived the disease that largely erased elm from the landscape will be planted on Saturday at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Penn.

The American elms were developed by Forest Service scientist Jim Slavicek in Ohio and grown to seedling stage in the West Virginia State Nursery through collaboration with Forest Service researcher Mary Beth Adams in Parsons, W.Va. The collaboration is part of an Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) project that will include Forest Service elms at about 20 planting sites including the Flight 93 Memorial.

“Like the people they will honor, these trees are individuals with a vibrant legacy,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Northern Research Station. “The Flight 93 National Memorial is a living memorial to the passengers and crew aboard Flight 93. The Forest Service is deeply honored to contribute trees that are truly rooted in resilience.”

Dutch elm disease-tolerant trees were developed using pollen collected from “survivor” elms in controlled pollinations with known DED-tolerant selections at the Delaware, Ohio, laboratory. The goal is to generate DED-tolerant, cold-hardy, and site-adapted progeny trees.

The National Park Service manages the Flight 93 Memorial and organized the April 20 tree planting. The event is one of four tree planting days planned at the Memorial this year; ultimately it will include over 340 acres of trees, meeting the intent of  the memorial design. Flight 93 was one of four airplanes hijacked and used by terrorists to destroy buildings on Sept. 11, 2001. Because of the actions of the 40 passengers and crew aboard Flight 93, an attack on the U.S. Capitol was thwarted.

The Dutch elm disease-tolerant elm trees were contributed by the Forest Service in cooperation with the West Virginia State Nursery. While the National Park Service intended to use native ash trees for the Memorial plantings, plans were revised because ash trees are vulnerable to the emerald ash borer, a non-native insect that has spread to more than 18 states in the Midwest and East since 2002. 

“We remember American elm as a stately and very dominant tree in urban landscapes, but elm was also an important component of hardwood forests and riparian ecosystems,” Slavicek said. “Bringing elm back to the forest could be an important tool in restoration of riparian areas and floodplains as we lose ash in these landscapes to the emerald ash borer.”

The American elm was once widely distributed throughout the eastern United States and was a preferred tree for use along city streets and in the yards of many homeowners.  Dutch elm disease was introduced into the United States in 1930 and spread to destroy millions of American elm trees in urban and forested landscapes. Plantings at the Memorial are part of the ARRI’s work to restore forests on drastically disturbed lands in the eastern United States.

Dutch elm disease-tolerant American elms have been planted along the Connecticut River in New England as well as in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“One of the challenges of breeding trees to tolerate Dutch elm disease is generating trees that are both DED tolerant and site-adapted for unique climates and conditions throughout their native range so that these trees will not only survive where they are planted but that will also flourish ,” Slavicek said. “One tree does not fit all of the conditions in the American elm’s range.”

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of our nation’s forests; 850 million acres including 100 million acres of urban forests where most Americans live. The mission of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.

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Last modified: April 20, 2013