WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Scientists at the United Nations estimate that up to 150 species of animals, bugs, and trees go extinct each year. For one conservation organization, it’s a race against the clock to save one tree that is native to the United States.
The American Chestnut Tree is 1 of almost 900 tree species native to the United States. Experts say it once grew abundantly all over the east coast. But now, those looking forward to roasting chestnuts on an open fire can rejoice as locals celebrate the return of the tree that was once thought to be extinct.
Lisa Thomson, President & CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation, explained that nearly 4 billion American Chestnut trees once existed. But a fungus called blight from other non-native plant species has wiped out almost 90 percent of the trees. She says as few as 430 million stem sprouts exist in the wild. But time is running out to save the species from complete extinction.
President of the Virginia chapter, John Scrivani says the American Chestnut Tree is a major food source for wildlife and was an abundant building material for early settlers.
“It was an important resource and then collecting the chestnuts in the fall and selling them to the urban areas of the cash crop,” Scrivani explained.
Now with only around 10 percent of trees left, conservationists are racing against the clock to save this species. One of the restoration methods used by scientists is the cross-breeding of American and Chinese Chestnut trees.
“We are actually sharing among the chapters the best of the best of our trees. It’s a very collaborative between volunteer chapters, between different state universities,” Scrivani explained.
Maryland chapter President Bruce Levine explained that when chestnut trees from eastern Asian countries were brought over to the United States, they brought diseases and fungi that the American trees were not used to. Now, they are noticing trees that are bred with the eastern Asian varieties are showing resilience to blight while still keeping characteristics of the native American Chestnut tree.
“We’re going to work to refine our breeding program by using those trees to cross the best trees with the best trees and hopefully elevate the resistance more without losing that American character,” Levine explained.
If you’re interested in joining the restoration efforts like planting and pollinating trees, you can contact your local chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.