For Brian McCarthy, spending the weekend in mud up to his knees may turn out to be the ultimate win-win situation. He will have helped save a cherished American tree and reclaim ravaged mine land.
In honor of Arbor Day, April 25, the forest ecologist and professor of environmental and plant biology recently led a group of volunteers in planting 800 American chestnut seeds and seedlings at the Jockey Hollow Wildlife Management Area, a 20-acre tract of reclaimed mine land near Cadiz, Ohio.
The experimental plantings are aimed at spurring a comeback by the species, which was nearly wiped out by a foreign blight in the early 1900s. Working alongside researchers with the Ohio chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, the U.S. Forest Research Lab and the U.S. Department of the Interior, McCarthy helped create the hybrid, blight-resistant variety that he plants. Researchers give seedlings a fungus that boosts their natural immune system, increasing their survival rate.
Jockey Hollow is among many treeless tracts that dot the landscape of Appalachian Ohio. Until the new hybrid came along, trees had a difficult go of propagating in the poor soil conditions. Lucky for the mine project and for chestnut reforestation efforts, the tree does just fine in nutrient-poor, acidic conditions.
But the key to the trees taking hold lies in land preparation. The technique, developed by the Department of the Interior and known as "loose end dumping," is showing promise as a way to transform barren mine land into prospering chestnut forests.