Chestnut Fever

Woman standing out in a budding forest

Guest post by Leila Pinchot

You could say we’ve gone a little chestnut-crazy on the Milford Experimental Forest. Whenever there’s a harvest, freeing-up precious growing space, inevitably my father or I decide to plop in a few more chestnuts.  It started with a breeding orchard in 2004, which has recently started producing nuts.  Then in 2012 we implemented a 60-acre shelterwood harvest, creating the perfect environment for another chestnut planting.  Our hunt club also caught the bug and has planted numerous chestnuts within their food plots to create the ultimate salad bar for their beloved white-tailed deer.

Our latest chestnut endeavor is perhaps the most exciting - in collaboration with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) we planted 1000 chestnut seeds from ten putatively-blight resistant hybrid families last spring.   The plan was to study the long-term survival, growth, and blight resistance of the various families, to help TACF select the best families for large-scale reintroduction.  Unfortunately most of the nuts, though protected by a deer exclosure and tree shelters, were eaten by a sneaky creature of some sort, probably a raccoon (goes to show how palatable the nuts are).  So this fall we’re replanting seedlings, which won’t be as vulnerable as nuts.  We’re very excited to recruit the help of Women and Their Woods towards this effort.

Why are so focused on this one species?  The historic importance of chestnut is compelling, but isn’t the motivating force behind our reintroduction efforts.  Rather I think about how chestnut can help us meet our current management objectives for the property – providing a reliable source of hard mast for a variety of wildlife species, thereby increasing biodiversity and hopefully hunting opportunities for our hunt club.  It may be a suitable tree to plant, along with other species, on parts of our property where eastern hemlock is losing its battle with hemlock woolly adelgid.  And for those sentimental types, it also offers a story of hope in an era where are forests are under attack from all sides.

Mark your calendars! Our next Women and their Woods event is April 25-26, 2014 in Milford, PA. The Women and Their Woods program is planning for an exciting weekend touring Grey Towers National Historic Site, former home of conservationist Gifford Pinchot and his talented wife, Cornelia. We will also be participating in work to reintroduce the American chestnut at the nearby Milford Experimental Forest, currently owned and managed by members of the Pinchot family. Contact Amanda Subjin (570-226-3164, [email protected]) at the Delaware Highlands Conservancy for more information or to secure your spot for the weekend.