Dr. Hill Craddock, Davenport professor of biology, biological and environmental sciences, calls restoring the American chestnut tree “the right thing to do,” especially since the blight that destroyed the US population of the American chestnut tree was caused by human carelessness.
The blight, imported to the US on Asian chestnut trees in the early 1900s, is a fungus that spreads via spores in the air, raindrops or animals. By 1950, America’s population of mature chestnut trees was virtually wiped out.
“It’s been called the worst ecological disaster in North America since the Ice Age, billions of trees over thousands of square miles of land,” said Craddock.
As part of a national restoration effort, Craddock and his team have been breeding American chestnut trees with blight resistant Chinese and Japanese species through a process called backcrossing. As the trees grow, they are inoculated with a lethal strain of the blight. In 2009, Craddock and his team grew 4000 hybrid seedlings.
“The idea is not to replace the American chestnut tree but to introduce the genes into native populations in a way that conserves the species,” said Craddock.
Researchers are now monitoring hundreds of blight-resistant American chestnut trees planted in test plots on three national forests.
Craddock is optimistic about the five year reforestation agreement between the US Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to use former coal surface mined lands as sites to plant American chestnuts.