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| Sunday, June 27, 2010 | THe Sunday TeLeGRaPH

Chestnut | Breeding process may be able to develop resistant strain COntinueD frOm | page B-1 fungus, which will kill at least seven out of every eight trees, and crossbred to produce new generations. Those generations will be weeded out with fungus and crossbred, and their nuts planted. If all goes well, this process will produce a New Hampshirespecific American chestnut strain, able to stand the cold and the fungus that produces chestnut blight, and which will be ready for widespread planting in our forests – but not until the year 2022 at the earliest. “To do this, you have to love the species, you have to love the promise of species restoration. … It’s not exactly a quick process,” said Grace Knight, of Vermont, head of the VermontNew Hampshire chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation.

For more information about American chestnut tree restoration, contact Curt Laffin, of Hudson, at or 889-4643, or visit the American Chestnut Foundation website at www.

Staff photo by BOB HAmmerStrOm

Once widespread, now gone

This chestnut tree was spared when loggers cleared trees from land off the end of Ridgecrest Drive Many people know the story in Hudson. The flowers on the tree have been bagged to keep them from being pollinated.

of the American elm tree, a glorious species that lined city streets around America until it was virtually wiped out in the early 20th century by Dutch elm disease, which came here from Europe. Attempts to develop diseaseresistant elms are well publicized, and the Keene-based Elm Research Institute plants hundreds of its cultivars around the Northeast. But fewer know the similar story of the American chestnut, an equally important tree. “It’s hard to get people to even think about it, it’s so far removed,” said Laffin, a retired Fish and Wildlife ranger who has been telling the story of the American Chestnut Foundation’s efforts. “If you’re younger than 60, you don’t even remember the chestnut.” This is striking because the American chestnut was so

valuable. It formed as much as a quarter of the average hardwood forest throughout the eastern U.S., stretching from Mississippi to the edge of Maine. Its fat-rich nuts fed wildlife, as well as people – “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” – while its wood was prized for being rot resistant, strong and light. For centuries, it was a bulwark of America’s forests andwww forestry industry. Then the blight hit, arriving from Asia. A fungus carried from tree to tree by beetles creates cancers that eventually girdle infected trees, destroying the bark’s ability to carry nutrients and starving the tree. The disease spread like wildfire throughout the continent, and New Hampshire’s chestnuts were gone by the 1930s. Actually, that isn’t quite true.

The blight doesn’t affect roots, which can survive for decades. If these are exposed to sunlight, such as when trees near them are logged, these roots can send up shoots that live for a couple of years, perhaps getting as tall as a person, until the blight kills them. “There are little American chestnuts all over Hudson, all over (New Hampshire),” Laffin said. Every now and then, perhaps because little fungus happens to be nearby, those shoots get big enough to produce nuts, becoming the rare “mother tree” before finally succumbing to disease. Few, however, get as big as Hudson’s.

Genetic diversity Kendra Gurney, the northeast regional science coordi-

food drive | Summer needs critical COntinueD frOm | page B-1 because they are not very nutritious and high in sodium, as is the case with many inexpensive foods. “The summer food drives are really great because not a lot of people are thinking about donating during the summer,” Christie said. “They are really important to us and the other food pantries in town.” Carol Connor, the director of development at The Nashua Pastoral Care Center, said the food drive is critical at this time of the year. The pastoral care center is not a walk-in pantry. The center provides bags of food for people on a case-bycase basis. “There is definitely a need and the need increases in the summer months,” Connor said. “We are very grateful for the generosity of our community members for helping with this need.” The community members and businesses are being asked to help out in any way they can. Angela Velasquez of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce has contacted businesses to be drop off sites. She sent out a newsletter that reached more than 1,200 people on their mailing list. “It only helps us to help each other,” Velasquez said. “We have a very close relationship with the two hospitals.” St. Joseph Hospital and SNHMC have been at the center

tree orchard in the state-owned ShielingForestinPeterborough, a role that includes having to individually water 400 trees each week that doesn’t have at least an inch of rain. “The U.S. Forest Service is very interested in this,” he said. He noted that new threats to other forest species in the Northeast – notably the wooly adelgid that’s threatening hemlocks and the emerald ash borer threatening ash trees – makes it all the more important to bring back the American chestnut. “They’re going to survive global warming because we’re at the northern end of the range,” Brookes said. “They’re really more of a Virginia tree. I feel they’ll spread very quickly once we get a resistant tree.” The foundation thinks it needs six generations of backcrossbreeding before it’s confident enough to create a “seed orchard” of trees whose seeds will be planted in the wild. The first Peterborough trees were planted in 2008, and since the final generation has to be about 6 years old to produce mature seeds, widespread dissemination of New Hampshire strains won’t happen until 2022 at the earliest. “I’m doing this for my grandchildren,” Knight said.

mOre infOrmAtiOn

tO Help Out Drop-off sites include Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and its affiliates and St. Joseph Hospital and its affiliates. Visit or for additional donation locations. For more information or to request a donation box at your location, contact Julie Eckmann at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center at 577-7563, or Angela Velasquez at the Greater Nashua Chamber of Comof the food drive for a decade and a half. Julie Eckmann, of SNHMC, wants the awareness of the drive to grow throughout the month of the donation period. She said the two hospitals will have boxes in the front lobby where people can drop off their items. Jerry Leclerc is the coordinator of mission activities at St. Joseph Hospital. Leclerc is expecting the food drive to deliver the amount that it has in the past few years since the economy has withered like the summer food supply. The food drive counts its food in pounds not individual items and Leclerc is expecting somewhere between 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of food and goods. Leclerc said the totals used to

merce at 881-8333. Donations will be going to: The Upper Room, Corpus Christi, Main Street Methodist Church, Nashua Salvation Army, Tolles Street Mission, St. John the Evangelist Church in Hudson, The Nashua Pastoral Care Center, Ann Marie House in Hudson, St. John Neumann Church in Merrimack, the SHARE program at St. Patrick’s Church in Milford, Christian Bible Church, and the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. be in the tens of thousands of pounds, but that was before the recession. Leclerc said some good things to donate would be toilet paper, napkins, diapers and other tissue products because those items cannot be purchased with food stamps. He said they try to push peanut butter because it has a lot of protein, and tuna and beef stew are always great to get. The two hospitals are the main areas for donations and good from other drop off zones are eventually transferred to them. Leclerc said the hospitals donate 200 pounds of goods at a time. The two hospitals divvy up the list of 12 locations that will receive the much needed help.

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nator for the American Chestnut Foundation, came down to Hudson for last week’s flower bagging. Delighted as she was by the size of Hudson’s tree, a foot across at chest height and standing at least 60 feet high, she wasn’t optimistic about its future, pointing to bark riddled with cankers. “Getting nutrients now is like

sucking through a straw with a hole in it,” she said. “I’d be surprised if it hangs on more than a year or two.” This adds to the urgency of the collection process. The American Chestnut Foundation is eager to collect nuts from as many trees as possible, from as many different parts of the chestnut’s historic range, to increase genetic diversity. “Each state is developing its own resistant line from its own trees,” Gurney said. This is a different approach than one being used in American elm programs, which create as many descendants as possible from a few naturally resistant trees carrying names like Liberty and Princeton. There are also separate attempts to genetically engineer resistant strains of both trees. Spencer Brookes, of Wilton, is one who helps oversee New Hampshire’s main chestnut

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Wendy and Don before surgery in July 2004

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