Biological & Life Sciences,
Botanical, Horticultural & Landscape Services,
Wildlife Preservation & Protection
Mission: The American Chestnut Foundation has one simple goal: to restore the American chestnut to its native forests. Destroyed by an imported blight many consider the worst environmental disaster of the twentieth century, the American chestnut was virtually eliminated from the eastern hardwood forest between 1904 and 1940. With its loss, wildlife populations plummeted; never to return to former levels. With recent developments in genetics, there is promise that this critically important wildlife food source and timber tree will again become part of our natural heritage. To make this possibility a reality, a group of prominent scientists, in 1983, established the non-profit research-oriented American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). The Foundation's mission is simple: to restore the American chestnut as an integral part of the eastern forest ecosystem. TACF is employing traditional plant breeding techniques, backed by advanced research methods, to develop a blight resistant American chestnut tree. TACF is restoring a species - and in the process, creating a template for restoration of other tree and plant species.
Results: The American chestnut ruled our forests for centuries, but a killer blight made up of microscopic spores needed only 50 years to wipe the giant from the face of North America. But we still have buildings made from it, and we still have people pulling for it. Our organization based in Asheville wants to bring it back from memory and make the chestnut stand tall again. The mission of conservation nonprofit The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is to restore the American chestnut tree to eastern woodlands to benefit the environment, wildlife, and society.
The loss of the American chestnut, one of the most abundant and economically important hardwood trees in the United States, is unprecedented. After the introduction of a blight fungus imported with Asian chestnuts, four billion trees were reduced to stumps. The American chestnut used to compose 25% of the Appalachian forest. The nutritious nuts were plentiful in diets of humans, livestock and wildlife. In fall, the leaf matter decomposed faster than waxy oak leaves supporting aquatic biodiversity. The demise of contiguous American chestnut forests significantly reduced the population of bear, turkey and pollinators. Additionally, the timber is rot-resistant, fast-growing and easy to work. For these reasons, the American chestnut has been dubbed the “perfect tree,” and its return is indeed achievable.
But at this very moment, on farms and woodlots scattered across North Carolina and the rest of the native range of the species, an army of volunteers is working on perhaps the most audacious conservation project of our time: bringing back the American chestnut. While state and federal agencies take part in restoration research and fieldwork, most of these workers are part of The American Chestnut Foundation, founded in 1983 by a trio of plant scientists. TACF, which is headquartered in Asheville, now has chapters in 16 states.
This work takes place in volunteer orchards scattered across 16 states. In North Carolina, more than 2,000 trees grow in more than 40 plantings and breeding orchards. The quest for blight-resistant American chestnuts has been going on for more than three decades, but by backcrossing generations of Chinese and American chestnuts, volunteers and scientists have now produced a “restoration chestnut,” a hybrid tree that is fifteen-sixteenths American.
It may be that the North Carolina mountains yet boast of groves of giant American chestnut trees, of forests festooned with chestnut flowers, of open fires licking at chestnuts.
Geographic areas served: United States
Programs: In several important ways, 2015 was a benchmark year for The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). Our new President and CEO, Lisa Thomson, is off to a strong and energetic start. Our new quantitative geneticist, Jared Westbrook, is delivering encouraging news about the breeding program.
The dedication and passion of our 16 chapters, 6,000 volunteers, and countless partners is a large part of the foundation’s success. In the past year, our chapters planted more than 52,000 chestnut trees at 101 separate locations throughout the eastern range. More than 12,000 Restoration Chestnut 1.0 trees have been planted in national forests in Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Maine, and Vermont. With the annual progress at our research farms in Meadowview, Virginia, the genetic qualities of the Restoration Chestnut Trees 1.0 continue to improve.
By The Numbers - (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015)
354 - trees inoculated with 125 fungal strains, five strains per tree, to study the pathogenicity of the fungus
2,187 - trees inoculated in progeny tests
2,171 - trees inoculated in Meadowview seed orchards
481 - large surviving American chestnut breeding orchard trees inoculated in progeny tests
DNA sequence data obtained for 680 trees to predict disease resistance
Managed 93 acres of pollinator-friendly plots with 37 controlled pollinations on mother trees in Meadowview orchard
225 miles of the Appalachian Trail hiked for MEGA-Transect Chestnut project
744 new members enrolled
Plant-a-Tree at Flight 93:
On April 17-18, The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) was honored to participate in “Plant-a-Tree at Flight 93” for its fourth year in a row. This annual event is organized by the National Park Service, the Friends of Flight 93, and the National Park Foundation as part of a major reforestation effort that will ultimately result in large areas of new forest at the Flight 93 National Memorial. The Flight 93 National Memorial is a national park created to commemorate the passengers and crew of Flight 93 who, on September 11, 2001, courageously gave their lives by thwarting a planned attack on our nation’s capital. The memorial is near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed, resulting in the loss of its 40 passengers and crew.
TACF Completes Multi-Year Conservation Innovation Grant:
In 2011, The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) was awarded a national Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) by the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This was an exciting opportunity that had multiple objectives to help TACF forward the Foundation’s mission of restoring American chestnuts to eastern forests, while also working toward NRCS’s mission of putting private lands into conservation to benefit society and wildlife.
Appalachian Trail MEGA-Transect Chestnut Project:
The Appalachian Trail MEGA-Transect Chestnut Project trains volunteers to collect data on American chestnut trees along the Appalachian Trail.