Front Porch Blog

Chestnuts Spreading Once Again!

No ecosystem scarred by mountaintop removal will ever retain its original beauty or bio-diversity.

Reclamation is generally a joke.

And not a single inch of Appalachia should ever be subject to the shame of being strip-mined.

However, scientists and foresters are using one post-mine land use that I think is very interesting, and could at least help us regain some of Appalachia’s lost forest cover to help combat global warming by recycling enormous amounts of Carbon Dioxide. That is reforestation using a new blight-resistant hybrid of the nearly extinct American Chestnut Tree.

Some brief background;
The Chestnut Tree was the dominant canopy tree of the Appalachian region, ranging from Maine to Mississippi and East to the Ohio Valley. It grew up to 150 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. A blight, a fungus from the American Chestnut’s Asian counterpart, was first discovered in New York City in 1904. The blight ruptures the bark of the tree, destroying its ability to grow large or robustly, and it killed nearly all of the existing specimens over the course of just a few decades. Learn more here, or from the American Chestnut Foundation website.

So, fast-forward to 2007, when scientist have learned that the loose soil of previous mine sites is at least good for something besides looking ugly – planting American Chestnuts!
Well, its actually a hybrid between the Chinese and American Chestnuts. The tree is “100% blight resistant” and “94% American,” and it is flourishing in Appalachia.

Coal-mining industry employees, university researchers, schoolchildren and other volunteers led by Case’s foundation have planted more than 3,000 chestnuts in seven Appalachian states, Kempthorne said. That’s helping turn around the fate of the “spreading chestnut tree” in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1840 paean to the village blacksmith.

“The coal fields of Appalachia match up almost perfectly with what once was the natural range of the American chestnut,” Kempthorne said. “We have discovered that chestnuts grow twice as fast on the loosely packed soils commonly found on reclamation sites. This bodes very well for what is about to occur.”

I hope that interested parties continue to look for ways to constructively use abandoned mine land. I’d also like to say that we’ve got PLENTY of land deforested and destroyed by mountaintop removal and strip-minung – roughly a million acres – that we shouldn’t have to create any more. Lets use what we’ve got.





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