SRLT is collaborating with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to restore the iconic American chestnut. In 2020 an American chestnut genetic conservation orchard was planted at Albert J. Sousa Preserve in Burnham. Seeds were gathered from some of the few remaining Maine wild chestnuts and grown into seedlings by project partners. This work has been supported by TACF, the Quimby family foundation, University of New England, UMaine Orono, and the Orono Land Trust. These trees will helps conserve genetic diversity in native chestnuts.
When the trees grow large enough to produce female flowers, TACF plans to breed them with blight-tolerant pollen with the goal of producing trees with Maine genetics that are tolerant of the imported fungal blight which nearly eliminated the species from North America. Watch this video from the University of New England to learn how the project is progressing and see some of the techniques that have been used.
This project had its germination when Dr. Thomas Klak and Andrew Grammas presented a chestnut program for a near capacity audience at our Speaker Series in February 2020. Tom is Vice President and Chair of Gene Conservation for TACF, Maine Chapter. SRLT Board chair, Tom Aversa then met with Dr. Klak and local partners Matt Chatfield (formerly at Unity College) and TACF board member Andy Reid and agreed to ask the SRLT Board to help bring back this keystone species by utilizing our preserved lands.
American Chestnut Restoration
Thanks go out to many who have supported this project. TACF provided seedlings, materials and expertise. Maine chapter president Al Faust also mowed and augered holes for seedlings in 2020 and again in 2021. Many trees had to be replaced after the near record drought of 2020. Planting both years was made possible thanks to Matt Chatfield and Han Tan, professors at UMaine, Orono. Many volunteers joined SRLT's Stewardship crew to plant, carefully label, and provide deer protection for trees. Brett Johnson, who began agricultural activities at Sousa in 2021, has helped mow the site. Preserve neighbors Chad O'Brien and Don Griffeth also mowed and provided access to water as supplemental watering was provided both years. To learn more about American chestnut restoration visit Sousa and see the orchard or visit TACF of Maine.