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American Chestnuts coming back

4:01 PM, Oct 18, 2010   |    comments
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BRADLEY, Maine (NEWS CENTER)--The American Chestnut was once the most prolific hardwood tree in the Appalachians. The population has been decimated by a blight brought in from Asia and now only about 200 wild American Chestnuts exist in Maine.

The problem began at the turn of the last century and by 1960, the Federal Government stopped funding protection of the Chestbuts.  In 1982, a group of American Scientist believed they had the technology to bring the Chestnut back.  They began a program of "Back Cross-Breeding" that they thought would establish a blight-resistant Chestnut in 30-40 years.

Sixth-generation Chestnuts are now about five years old.  It looks like the program is working.  At an orchard in Bradley which features fifth generation trees, Glen Rea of the American Chestnut Foundation is among those working with this tree.  "It's been said the loss of the Chestnut in the New England area was the greatest ecological damage since the last ice age," he told NEWS CENTER.

"The tree is fast growing and produces a beautiful hardwood, which is light and durable," he went on.  His organization has planted two sixth generation  Chestnuts at the Leonard's Mills Living History Center in Bradley.  These trees will produce wild American Chestnut trees that are highly blight resistant.

While the project seems successful, Rea said there are no guarantees.  "As my old professor used to say, 'If you're a living thing, there's always something chewing on you!'"

The American Chestnut Foundation has chosen seven thousand spots to plant seventh generation trees when they become available.  About seventy of those sights are in Maine.

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