Cooperatove Conservation Project

American Chestnut Restoration

Restoring the “Redwood of the East”


Project Summary: Using new technologies and a strong partnership, blight resistant strains of American Chestnut are being used to restore the tree to its former range.
Click for Full Size
American chestnut, showing exposed seed.
Resource Challenge

American chestnut trees were once an important part of the Nation’s eastern forests, making up one out of four trees in many places. Known as the “Redwood of the East,” their nuts were important food for people and wildlife, and their timber was ideal for furniture and other products. Around 1900, a foreign fungus called chestnut blight swept through eastern forests, and by the 1950s, more than four billion American chestnut trees were gone.

Occasionally, someone found a live tree. A persistent few would not give up on the chestnut. Around 1904, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station began programs to develop a blight-resistant strain. Efforts failed, and the USDA discontinued their program in 1960. Nobody knew then that some of their strains would indeed become important parts of the modern breeding program. 

Armed with a new understanding of genetics, scientists and supporters renewed their efforts in the 1980s, which saw the formation of a non-profit organization called the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). The organization established research farms with several cooperators.

Examples of Key Partners
The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), USDA Forest Service, USDA Agriculture Research Service, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Pennsylvania, foresters, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Results and Accomplishments

The USDA Forest Service State and Private Forestry, National Forest System, Agriculture Research Service, Connecticut Extension, and several others have been working with TACF to restore chestnut trees to the landscape. The breeding program crosses Chinese chestnuts, naturally resistant to the blight, with their American cousin. The program has produced blight resistant trees with 98 percent American genes. TACF expects the first seeds to be ready for test planting by 2006, and trees with the characteristics needed to survive in their former range a few years after that. 

To assure genetic diversity in the restored population, several resistant strains will be needed. During the last eight years the USDA Forest Service has been locating new trees in the wild to add to the breeding population. The USDA Forest Service Research station has identified genetic markers that indicate resistance, which will speed up the breeding program.   

In 2004, the Forest Service and TACF signed a Memorandum of Understanding. As the centerpiece, the Forest Service will plant TACF-bred seedlings on National Forest System lands.

The persistence, dedication, and cooperation of a few people over the course of decades is starting to bear fruit for the future of the American Chestnut.

Project Contact
Marshal Case
President and CEO
The American Chestnut Foundation



To request additions or corrections to this case study email the Administrator