James and Gail Cope look out over their land in Kentucky. USDA photo.
It was on a hilltop in eastern Kentucky where I first met James and Gail Cope, looking at the 27 newly planted American chestnut seedlings on their land. It was our common love for this rare tree that brought us together.
American chestnut trees once dominated the Appalachian landscape, but during the early 1900s a fungus struck the trees causing them nearly to vanish. The American Chestnut Blight, an Asian fungus, first struck in 1904 in New York City and quickly spread, leaving in its wake a trail of dead and dying stems. By the 1950s, the keystone species of some nine million acres of forests had disappeared.
The tree is important because it produces bushels of nuts for wildlife, and animals like squirrels, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, black bear, and grouse depend on the nuts for a major food source. Read more »
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a popular line from a holiday song, are a tradition that at one time seemed imperiled by the decreasing population of chestnut trees. (USDA photo)
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” is a line from a song that conjures up fond holiday memories for some Americans. For others, the joy of roasting chestnuts has yet to be experienced. But the lack of American chestnuts could change in the coming years, thanks to some very dedicated people.
The U.S. Forest Service and its partners may be one step closer to restoring the American chestnut tree to parts of the mountains and forests of the southern United States. Since 2009, they planted close to 1,000 potentially-blight resistant American chestnut trees on national forests in North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Read more »