Conservation

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From the birthplace of American conservation…

…to the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum in Portland, Oregon

Post by: Courtney Long, Interpretation Specialist at the Cradle of Forestry in America

Trip Outline:

North Carolina to Oregon, I accompanied a USFS employee on his move across the country. We traveled through small towns, state parks, farm country, national forests and grasslands, national monuments, and a national park. You can view photos and thoughts during the trip on our @Cradle_of_Forestry Instagram account. 

The story:

Every place has its story. As interpreters and educators we can be creatively fun in deciding the ways we share those stories. I wondered continually how to tell the story of our trip from east coast, to the grand lakes of the north, then to west coast. I had plenty of hours to mull over themes and telling points. But the landscapes kept pulling my thoughts to the present moments. 

Black-Hills-pronghorn.1

This was my longest road trip to date and once we passed through Illinois every state was new for me. For the first time I saw mule deer, pheasants, bison, pronghorns, herds of elk, and perhaps a glance at a moose. 

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” -President Lyndon B. Johnson

And LBJ was right. It wasn’t until South Dakota that we saw our first bison but my imagination went as wild as the great plains once were during the miles and miles of rolling lands on the way there. What would it have been like to travel this route 200 years ago when millions of bison roamed freely? To have seen natural America with more than a glimpse of what is once was. 

Sustainable forestry is part of leaving that glimpse for us. Our national forests and national grasslands protect natural resources, yes, but they also provide wild places for us to grow, learn and play. Worldwide we live cooped up in offices, tucked in windowless cubbies, or secured in front of our televisions. Have you ever seen the YouTube videos of rescued animals (cows, pigs, dogs, a circus lion) who experience grass for their first time in months or lifetime? That’s how I imagine millions of people every weekend who take advantage of the outdoors after 5 days of tiresome work.  Millions of people revitalizing their spirits in the clean, wispy air of the deep woods or mountainous ridges. 

Should it be this way? No, I don’t think it should. 

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” -President Teddy Roosevelt. 

This quote summarizes one of the most misunderstood concepts about forestry since its birth in western North Carolina in the 1890’s thru today. To cut down all of the trees until none are left is folly. To never cut down any is also folly (I’m speaking in exaggerated tones. Of course it’s important to have places set aside such as the National Parks for preservation). In sustainable forestry, there is a healthy balance. These are the lessons Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck perhaps shared with his forestry students as they restored eroded hillsides and surveyed forested landscapes of the Biltmore Forest.

World-Forestry-Oregon.1

National forests and grasslands nurture different capacities of our natural resources. This links all of us in America, from east to west coast. Redwoods store more carbon than any other tree in the world, making them vital carbon sinks. Eastern forests are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, protecting forest resiliency. They’re all different, and must all be managed differently to preserve those glimpses of wild places for generations to come. 

National-monument-mount-rushmore

Opposite of his boisterous personality which gave him the “Bull Moose” nickname, Teddy Roosevelt is tucked in the mountainside and barely visible in this photo.

The Discovery Museum at the World Forestry Center in Portland, OR enhances our connections even further to a global scale. We all (around the world) struggle in forestry with cultural boundaries and political priorities. I am proud of our historically great leaders who have pushed for conservation and preservation throughout America so that we can always have places to play, hunt, fish, recreate and road trip. We rely on our forests just as much as our predecessors did. Technology has not replaced our necessity for clean water, healthy soils and clean air. 

So go play. It’s all yours. 

 

States Covered:

North Carolina (Pisgah NF) >Tennessee >Kentucky >Ohio >Michigan >Illinois >Wisconsin >Minnesota >South Dakota (Sioux City Falls Park, Black Hills NF, Mount Rushmore National Monument, Custer State Park) >Wyoming (Bridger-Teton NF, Grand Tetons NP)> Idaho> Oregon (Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, World Forestry Center Discovery Museum)

Supporters of this road trip: 

Coffee, Snickers bars, our jobs, a patient traveling companion, and the NOAA app used for dodging impending ice and snow storms. 

Tales from the Forest: the American Chestnut

ConCradle educator Courtney Long found herself on a very well-loved trail in Pisgah National Forest. Although atypically warm for this late autumn afternoon, the colors remained mesmerizing. She was on the hunt for a very special find that a forest visitor discovered. She was seeking a tree that had once dominated forests of western North Carolina. A tree that once towered 100 feet above the forest floor and could reach widths of 10 feet: The American chestnut, or Castanea dentata. The sheer mass and abundance of these trees until mid-20th century had once allowed finding this species a breezy task. Now identification of these trees requires more attention. Catching her mind drifting into daydreams, Courtney reminded herself to keep a keen eye…

A quick history:

An estimated 4 billion chestnut trees once reigned eastern forests. For many species of wildlife chestnuts were a primary food source. Early settlers relied on the high quality wood, while the chestnuts were a source of income and livestock feed. Other parts of the tree were utilized for medicine and tanning. The American chestnut hosts many pests; including a root rot fungus, gall wasps, weevils, etc. (Note: the invasive Asian chestnut gall wasps were introduced in the 1970’s.) The rapid spread of the chestnut blight was most devastating, killing nearly the entire population. From the first discovery of the chestnut blight in 1904, some say 3.5 billion chestnuts were wiped out by the 1950’s. Today only small stands remain scattered, some with specimens as tall as 80-feet.

chestnuts-species-leaves

From L to R: American chestnut, Chinese hybrid, chestnut oak

Chestnuts today:

Although this Asian fungus kills the tree, it does not affect the root systems. Many American chestnuts found today are young and have sprouted from the root ball. The Cradle of Forestry Heritage Site has an example of this occurrence nearby the schoolhouse. Even though suckers from the root system survive, chestnuts take 7-8 years before maturing to bear fruit. Most suckers are infected with the blight before they reach this maturity. Hope persists for naturally resistant trees in the wild. 

This is why Courtney was tasked with seeking out an American chestnut sighting in Pisgah National Forest. The forest hiker noted a large specimen growing just off the trail and at his feet laid dozens of burs. “Surely people have noticed this. There are burs everwhere,” he insisted. “I wonder if it’s a chinquapin,” Courtney pondered as she recalled the phone conversation. Chinquapins are the cousins of chestnuts and bear similar, although smaller, burs and nuts. Courtney noted a couple of trailside chinquapins as she meandered higher in elevation. 

american-chesnut-leaves

Castanea dentata

Research efforts toward resistant trees:

The Backcross Method-Scientists use a series of backcrosses that maximize American genes and features while gaining resistance to the fungus. This process begins with a 100% American chestnut crossing with a 100% Chinese chestnut in order to obtain the blight resistant gene. These hybrids are continually crossed until a 15/16th American chestnut hybrid with resistance is grown. Seemingly healthy looking American chestnuts found in the wild are actually hybrids with the blight resistant Chinese chestnut. 

OXO Gene– A gene discovered in wheat encodes for an enzyme called oxalate oxidase (OxO). This enzyme is responsible for disease resistance in wheat and similar grasses. When transferred to the genes of American chestnuts, seedlings exhibit a resistance to the blight. 

A catkin, bur and nuts of an American chestnut

A catkin, bur and nuts of an American chestnut found in Pisgah National Forest, NC.

 “Ouch!” she yelped as she threw down the bur. Courtney had found several American chestnuts. Most looked unhealthy, either infected by the blight or powdery mildew on the leaves. Others had produced not just a handful of burs but possibly hundreds. Evidence of this nut as a wildlife favorite was found by the number of burs pried open and the nutrient rich prizes missing. Courtney had attempted to open one and resulted in a few needle pricks on her fingers.

Back in her office she prepped the samples and wrote down pertinent information the American Chestnut Foundation could use in positive identification. Shipped off to Asheville, she waited 5-6 weeks. 

How can you help?:

If you think you find a tree, follow the guidelines on the American Chestnut Foundation website and send in a leaf and twig sample. After testing, ACF informs you whether the tree found is a hybrid or 100%. This process can take a few weeks. If it is a fruit bearing tree, ACF may ask for you to collect chestnuts for them. These could aid in restoration research and efforts. This is a great impromptu activity with kids and teaches them ways they can be good stewards of their public lands.