Chestnut Trees Rebounding
Inside the Outdoors, August 31
, 2012

I received an email from a reader who noted a story in the Aug. 19 edition of the Wall Street Journal titled “Hopes for Chestnut Revival Growing.” That’s good news for the country as of one time, the trees were hit with a blight and they were wiped out by a fungus. According to the tabloid, “Scientists are on the brink of engineering a blight-resistant American chestnut tree, renewing hope for a comeback of a long-celebrated species that is valued by business for its sturdy hardwood.”

Heather Haddon writes, “For the first time, techniques are being used to genetically engineer sturdier farm crops as being tapped to bring back a devastated native species – one that once numbered in the billions and covered much of the East Coast. Entire forests were laid to waste by an Asian fungus introduced around 1900, and healthy chestnuts now exist only in a smattering of places in the American west, where the blight didn’t reach.”

That’s not entirely correct. We have chestnut trees that still bear fruit in our midst. My backyard is an example. It was one of 13 trees planted in Westmoreland County back in the late 1890’s to early 1900’s. My tree is a cross between a Japanese and a Chinese chestnut species.

Residents of the area have told me as well that they have chestnut trees on their property and have come across them while hiking, for example.

Forester Dave Planinsek of Forbes District #4 filled me in on the fact that the trees, cross breeds between an American and Chinese chestnut trees, are sprouting in the Laurel and Chestnut Ridges in the area. “They may live to 100 years old, die, but then sprout up again and start all over,” he said. What’s so amazing is that the roots don’t die, but the tree does, periodically. The fact that the roots continue to carry the life for that tree triggers the sprouting of a new growth when called to do so.

According to Dow Jones and Company officials, “Now chestnut trees whose lives began as smudges on a petri dish are growing in upstate New York, their genes infused with a wheat DNA that appears to kill the fungus that attacks the tree’s trunk and limbs. Unlike chestnuts in nature, thee trees haven’t succumbed so far to the blight- even when scientists directly infect them with it." It followed up by stating, “It remains to be seen whether scientists and foresters can replenish the American chestnut to its once glorious, widespread population.”

Efforts continue to bring the trees back. The American Chestnut Foundation started planting new trees in 2006. As a result of their efforts, “more than 100,000 of the trees are growing across 19 states with plan for millions more in what the group call the country’s largest ecological restoration effort.”

According to Sara Fitzsimmons, regional science coordinator for the American Chestnut Society, “It’s been a wacky two years as far as overall health that’s affected the chestnut tree.” She was unsure just exactly as to the cause, however she does have suspicions leading to the fact of a warm weather tied in with pest manifestations.

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An angler approached me recently and asked me a question I could not answer on the spot. So, upon browsing the Internet, I decided to do some investigation. His question – “How old can a bass get?” The answer according to one source is 15 plus years. That satisfied me and I hope it will educate one reader of this column.

In addition, I decided to look into the longevity of other freshwater fish and this is what I found: carp, 50 years; crappie, 6; perch, 11; pike, 24; rock bass, 8; and trout, 4.

I learned after taking a tour at one of the local hatcheries that only two percent of the trout stocked in the waters in and around the Ligonier Valley only live. That is due to the mink population and other predators eating the fish on a regular basis.

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Just because the Loyalhanna Creek is low, don’t be deceived by the water level. Fishing is great. I was with Latrobe resident Terry Crawford recently fishing the holes as we found them, and he pulled out an 18-inch smallmouth on his first cast. Soon after, from the same hole, I pulled out a 10-inch crappie. We got both of these fish on lures. One of these days I’m going back to live bait just for the heck of it.

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Just received a release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission that mergansers must not be eaten. They contain contaminants and PCBs. With the youth hunting season coming soon, this should serve as a warning.

Also, “Other waterfowl should be skinned and the fat removed before cooking. Stuffing should be discarded after cooking and should not be consumed,” it said. various classes such as People and Places.


- Paul J. Volkmann
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