The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) has been working to restore the magnificent American chestnut, Castenea dentata, since 1983. The driving force that moves this effort forward consists of 16 State chapters of dedicated volunteers. The VT/NH Chapter was first organized in 2007. Three restoration approaches are implemented under the TACF “3-BUR” program: “Breeding, Biotechnology and Biocontrol – United for Restoration.” The VT/NH Chapter incorporates all three methods in its restoration efforts.
Breeding: The traditional TACF breeding program is implemented at nine breeding orchards and three seed orchards that are managed by volunteers and partners across VT and NH. These orchards contain trees produced through three generations of back crossing wild American chestnuts (having no blight resistance) with Chinese chestnuts (which do have blight resistance). The resulting offspring are screened for blight resistance and those with acceptable levels are intercrossed over three more generations. At each generation we continue to refine the balance of blight tolerance and American chestnut character in this population of trees. Blight resistance is a complex trait that is not easily transferred to American trees. Stringent selection criteria and genomic assessment tools helps us keep only the best trees in our program.
Biotechnology: The core of the biotechnology program is transgenics. Scientists at the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), discovered that a gene from wheat produces an enzyme, oxalate oxidase (OxO), which enhances blight tolerance significantly. Release of this transgenic tree into Eastern forests requires Federal approval from USDA, EPA and FDA. The transgenic tree is a clone so it must be crossed for multiple generations with wild America chestnuts to assure genetic diversity. The VT/NH Chapter aggressively seeks nuts from wild trees, with emphasis on those having 100% American characteristics. These nuts are planted in Germplasm Conservation Orchards (GCO) in VT and NH. Flowering trees in GCOs may be pollinated with transgenic pollen following Federal approval.
Biocontrol: The primary biological control method being explored by TACF and its partners is hypovirulence. Chestnut blight fungus is infected by a virus, thereby sickening the fungus and reducing the ability of chestnut blight to cause lethal infections. Using this method, the natural defenses of the chestnut, combined with soil microorganisms may enable the tree to halt canker growth and ultimately survive an infection. In addition, the VT/NH Chapter is experimenting with “mud packing” as a method to slow blight canker development on individual trees.
Self-sustaining stands of blight-resistant American chestnut trees growing in Vermont and New Hampshire woodlands.
Board of Directors
The Board of Directors strives to achieve this Goal through various committees having responsibilities to manage orchards, locate and harvest nut producing wild American chestnuts, oversee Chapter governance, and convey the chestnut restoration story through outreach.
Evan Fox – President
Evan Fox is retired and lives in Barnard, VT with his wife Sue of 41 years, where she loves to garden and he loves to grow, manage and harvest about ten acres of softwood and hardwood trees, including the challenging Chestnut. He is an avid outdoorsman, carpenter and amateur cabinetmaker, heats mostly with firewood and is a semi-serious maple syrup producer during the season. Evan graduated Penn State’s Agricultural Engineering College in 1979, made his career in PA and serves as President of the Penn State Alumni Association’s Vermont Chapter.
Gary Hawley – Vice President
Gary Hawley is an Environmental Sciences and Forestry faculty member in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. He is also a member of the Williston, VT Conservation Commission for over 25 years. Hawley’s research interests include assessments of forest genetics and physiological responses to environmental stresses such as climate change and anthropogenic pollution. He has been involved in several American chestnut research projects including cold tolerance assessments, evaluation of the growth of multiple seed sources and performance of blight resistant hybrids relative to other forest tree species. This work is being conducted with the TACF and US Forest Service. Hawley also has been heavily involved and has directed many of the activities surrounding the green renovation of the Aiken Center and other Rubenstein School buildings at the University of Vermont. This nearly 20-year process includes teaching a yearly course titled “The Greening of Rubenstein Interns” that has guided students through many aspects of energy efficiency upgrades and is currently pushing ahead to Net Zero Energy for these buildings.
Bill Coder – Secretary
Bill joined TACF after happening upon an educational orchard around 2000 and then became active in the VT/NH Chapter upon moving to Bedford, NH in 2014. A retired engineer, Bill volunteers at several environment focused organizations. The idea for an educational chestnut planting at NH Audubon in Concord resulted from his volunteer connections in both organizations, forming a full circle with how he first became aware of the American chestnut story.
Will Abbott – Treasurer
Will and his wife Alicia live in Holderness, NH, in a home that they purchased in 1993 with the help of a local realtor named Doug McLane. Will recently retired from the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, where he ran the public policy shop and oversaw the stewardship of the Society’s 57,000 acres of forest land. He has had a life-long fascination with trees, particularly the American Chestnut and the American Elm, and the potential to restore each to their original range.
Yurij Bihun is a Vermont-based forester with experience in sustainable forest management, tree improvement, international development, and protected area management. In addition to teaching, research, and writing, he has had a wide spectrum of on-the-ground experience with the management of forest ecosystem services. His work in the conservation of forest ecosystems led to his interest in the restoration of natural landscapes and the challenge of returning American chestnut as a functional component our native woodlands. He was on the National Board of Directors of TACF from 2013-2019 and President of the VT/NH Chapter from 2014-2020.
My caring for, and interest in, the outdoors has been a lifelong passion of mine. It carried over into my career as a science educator with a BA in biology and MEd in Env. Sci. Ed. One of my greatest joys in life is sharing what I have learned in the outdoors with others. I currently serve as a volunteer Sci. Ed. Specialist at a school in Rutland, VT and as a Naturalist at Pine Hill Park, also in Rutland, where, among other things, I look over the care of 50 American Chestnuts. I am also in charge of the Rutland GCO, and am in the middle of planting American chestnut seedlings in each of the schools in Rutland as an Ed. and Outreach activity. It is so rewarding to know I am a part of the movement to help bring back the American Chestnut.
Dr. Gillian Galford
Dr. Gillian Galford is an expert in ecosystems ecology and global change. In addition to research and teaching at the University of Vermont in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and Gund Institute for Environment, Dr. Galford leads the Vermont Climate Assessment. Her research spans from the forests of Vermont to the Amazon.
Dr. Ann Hazelrigg
Ann has been a plant pathologist with UVM Extension for 35 years. She is the Director of the Plant Diagnostic Clinic and works with farmers and gardeners to diagnose insect, disease and weed problems. She is involved in many research projects that typically focus on diseases and organic agriculture. In her spare time she is a struggling fiddler and is excited to add chestnuts to her home arboretum!
Curt Laffin, and his wife Carol, have actively participated in nearly all types of VT/NH Chapter activities, especially outreach and communication. Curt is a wildlife biologist retired from the US Fish & wildlife Service. He and Carol live in Hudson, NH.
Doug McLane and his wife Sue have been active in chestnut restoration since the formation of the VT/NH Chapter. Doug’s favorite activity is tending the Chapter nursery and the ever-growing germplasm conservation orchard here in Plymouth, NH. It is a pleasure to have a chance to lead our Chapter into the challenging future of chestnuts.
Jess Wikle is the Manager of the UVM Research Forests and a faculty member in the forestry program. Prior to moving to Vermont, she worked as a consulting forester in southern New England. She is excited about the prospect of healthy chestnuts returning to New England forests some time in the future.
Science Contact – Kendra Collins (non-voting)
Marshall Case, Emeritus (non-voting)
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