Modified: April 27, 2018 1:30pm
Today, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Daniel J. Rizzo along with Parks department personnel, members of the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy, and community members to plant part of a group of 50 true American Chestnut tree seedlings at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park. The planting marks the first time in memory that American Chestnut seedlings have been planted at their namesake county park and begins a re-introduction plan that will eventually see these trees cross-pollinated with chestnut strains that are resistant to the blight which wiped out thousands of their forebears in the Park and across WNY.
“Chestnut trees are a vital part of healthy woodlands and long stood as a symbol of healthy communities as well, here in Erie County and across the eastern U.S. Then, communities nationwide were stricken and watched helplessly as blight took these magnificent trees by the millions across decades, leaving lone sentinels dotting the landscape where thousands of their counterparts had flourished,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “Today, on Arbor Day 2018, we are welcoming these friends back to their namesake park, Chestnut Ridge, and are taking the first steps towards bringing these foundations of the forest back to prominence. Chestnut trees will no longer be a memory but will once again be living, breathing contributors to our healthy Erie County Parks. ”
“Our parks have over 10,000 acres to enjoy but chestnut trees are not common in them anymore. Indeed, we don’t know if there are any left in Chestnut Ridge Park at all but it is possible,” said Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Daniel J. Rizzo. “Chestnuts were one of the first trees to succumb on a large scale to blight and pests, much like we are now seeing with ash, elm, oak and beech trees. The Parks feel these losses especially sharply, so it is good to be re-introducing chestnuts to the Ridge as part of a healthy and vibrant ecosystem.”
American Chestnut trees stood for centuries as an important part of our forests, rising up to 100 feet tall and numbering in the billions nationwide. Rural communities depended on chestnuts to feed livestock and chestnut lumber was used to build the American Dream as the nation surged westward. However, early in the twentieth century the fungal pathogen that creates chestnut blight was accidentally imported into the U.S. from Asia, and by 1950 the American Chestnut had disappeared from our landscape.
The new seedlings will be planted throughout Chestnut Ridge Park in groups of 2-3, which will spread out the population and make it harder for blight to spread from tree to tree. Eventually these trees will be cross-pollinated with transgenic, blight-resistant American Chestnut seeds, which will produce blight resistant seeds that the Parks Department can then reproduce. Planting the first batch of seedlings this year will also increase the genetic diversity in the seeds that the Parks Department will harvest and grow.
The transgenic American Chestnut trees are being produced by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (“ESF”) with funding through the NY chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, which has its roots in WNY. Researchers at ESF added a single gene from a wheat plant into the American Chestnut’s genome, which detoxifies the oxalic acid that is produced by the chestnut blight and allows the tree to survive. Because of this transgenic property, federal regulatory approval from the USDA, EPA and FDA is required before the trees can be introduced into the wild.
Erie County Forester Shane F.M. Daley added, “It is extremely important to get the American Chestnut tree back into the landscape because it used to be a keystone species of the forest. The mast that it produces provides so much food for wildlife and people, which is very important right now because of the decline of the American Beech tree which is another strong mast producer. The Chestnut trees also grow very fast and the wood is very rot resistant, making these trees ideal for mitigating climate change.”
For more information:
On the Erie County Department of Parks, visit http://www2.erie.gov/parks/
On SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, visit http://www.esf.edu/
On the Arbor Day Foundation, visit https://www.arborday.org/
J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day and an ardent arboreal advocate who recognized the value of trees of all types, famously said, “Each generation takes the earth as trustees.” He called for the nation’s first Arbor Day, in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. It’s estimated that over one million trees were planted that day across the Cornhusker State, with prizes offered to the counties and individuals who properly planted the largest number of trees that day. Arbor Day grew in popularity in ensuing years, involving thousands of schools and civic organizations first in Nebraska and then nationwide by 1882. It became a legal holiday in 1885. Morton later served as U.S. Agriculture Secretary under President Grover Cleveland.
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