One of the biggest obstacles is the host of laws and regulations that now govern the forests - or former forests - in the chestnut's original range, Jacobs said. In many public lands where the chestnut used to thrive, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, human interference is strongly discouraged and often illegal. But Jacobs said some interference and harvesting will be necessary to reintroduce the chestnut, calling for a unified and proactive approach and exceptions to certain laws that govern public lands.
Jacobs said that some might consider the blight-resistant chestnut hybrid as a cultivar or new species, which could hamper reintroduction to public lands. However, he stressed that just because the tree is crossed with the Asian chestnut to attain resistance, its physical traits and appearance should be indistinguishable from a pure American chestnut.
"This is as close to the real thing as it gets," Jacobs said. "Any closer and it wouldn't be blight-resistant."
Further breeding should produce even higher quality trees, he said.
In the early 1900s, the blight hit so fast that researchers didn't have time to study the American chestnut's ecology or interactions with its environment, Jacobs said. Thus, more research is needed to better understand the species and determine how to best reintroduce it into existing forests.
Jacobs recently conducted a study in Wisconsin where the fungus hadn't yet spread, demonstrating that the chestnut grew extremely fast, outcompeting native black walnut and red oak trees. The average chestnut grew to 23 feet by age 8.
"This confirmed what we had thought," Jacobs said. "The American chestnut is very fast-
|Contact: Douglas M. Main|