TACF 35th Anniversary Fall Board Meeting: Huntsville, AL

Friday, October 26 and Saturday, October 27
Embassy Suites by Hilton Huntsville Hotel and Spa
800 Monroe Street, Huntsville, AL 35801

Thank you to our sponsors, speakers and all attendees for your part in making this a fantastic event.

To view the presentations click on TOPIC under each presenter

2018 Keynote Speakers

Friday, October 26:  Volunteer Service Awards Dinner

Deborah Barnhart, PhD
Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, CAPT, USN (ret.), Huntsville, AL

Topic: Inspiring the Mars Generation 

Dr. Deborah Barnhart became the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in December 2010. The Center is the official Visitor Center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the showcase for Redstone Arsenal and defense programs, an Official Visitor Center for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and a Smithsonian Affiliate. Home to the world renowned U.S. Space Camp®, U.S. Space Academy®, Aviation Challenge®, and Robotics Camp, the Center is Alabama’s leading tourist attraction.

She is a recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest form of recognition awarded by NASA to a non-government individual. In 2015, Honeywell Hometown Solutions awarded Dr. Barnhart with the Hometown Heroes award for her dedication to inspiration and education through the Space Camp and Space Academy for Educators programs. In 2016, AL.com selected Dr. Barnhart as one of the 40 women who are shaping the State of Alabama. She is a member of the Smithsonian Affiliations Advisory Council and a Trustee on the Board of the University of Alabama in Huntsville Foundation. Read more about Dr. Barnhart here

Saturday, October 27:  35th Anniversary Gala Dinner

Special 35th Anniversary Presentation

Mark L. Double
Research Associate in Plant Pathology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV

Topic:  The American Chestnut Foundation–Looking Back on 35 Years

Mark Double obtained his undergraduate degree in biology and a graduate in microbiology and was hired at West Virginia University in 1977 to work on forest tree diseases. The late 1970s was the burgeoning time period for chestnut research at West Virginia University and chestnut defined Double’s career for the next 41 years. He has worked mostly with hypovirulence, experimenting with what was a relatively new phenomenon in the late 1970s.

Mark has had the pleasure of working with countless graduate students imparting his knowledge of laboratory techniques. He is also the chemical hygiene officer in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology where he trains undergraduate students in the safe practices of using hazardous chemicals. He has been the secretary for the USDA multi-state research project, NE-1333, where he has taken meeting minutes annually since 1982. Double lectures on chestnut at civic organizations, universities and colleges and at research meetings nationally and internationally.

Mark has been involved with TACF since its inception, acting as assistant treasurer from 1988-2006. He brings a unique perspective of TACF since he was involved in the very early days of the Foundation.

35th Annual Meeting Schedule

Friday, October 26

5:30 – 6:30 PM  Atrium / Lounge –  Embassy Suites Manager Special Social Hour including complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres

6:30 PM – 9:30 PM – Big Spring Ballroom C/D:  Volunteer Service Awards Dinner (with cash bar) featuring keynote speaker Deborah Barnhart, PhD, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, CAPT, USN (ret.)

Topic: Inspiring the Mars Generation
It’s been 50 years since we landed on the moon. What will it take for this generation to put boot prints on Mars?

Saturday, October 27

7:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Big Spring Ballroom Lobby:  Registration            

8:30 AM – 4:00 PM – Marshall Room:  Poster Session Viewing

8:30 AM – 9:30 AM – Big Spring Ballroom B/C/D:   Opening General Session

Topic: Alabama and the King of Chestnut Hill
by David Morris, Board Member The American Chestnut Foundation, Alabama Chapter Member, Chelsea, AL

David Morris has been a member of TACF since 2000 and helped charter our Alabama state chapter in 2005. He was Alabama’s president during the transition from provisional to full chapter status from 2005-2007. Currently he sits on TACF’s Board of Directors, as well as the Finance, Restoration and Science & Technology Committees.

Morris retired from his full-time job as manager of an earth science and environmental engineering department at a large company in 2014. When Morris is not doing chestnut activities, he works part-time as an independent environmental consultant in the areas of environmental policy, planning and strategy.

Topic: A Great American Tragedy: How a Mass Extinction Can Save Our Forests
by Rex Mann, Board Member The American Chestnut Foundation, Kentucky Chapter Founder, Mt. Sterling, KY

Rex Mann received a BS degree in forestry from NC State University in 1967.  He served 42 years with the US Forest Service as a Land Manager and Fire Fighter at eight different duty stations, retiring in 2007.  With a lifetime interest in American chestnut, he founded TACF’s KY Chapter in 2001 and served on the National Board of TACF for 14 years.

Living in Mt. Sterling, KY, with his wife, Anita, he has committed his remaining years to restoring American chestnut to the eastern forests.

10:00 – 11:45 AM     Morning Concurrent Educational Sessions 1 & 2

Session 1 – Moderated by Ben Jarrett, Southern Regional Science Coordinator

Dr. Jared Westbrook joined TACF in January 2015 as the organization’s new quantitative geneticist. He holds a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan, an MS in Botany and a PhD in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida. He works extensively with the Meadowview Research Laboratory and commutes from Asheville to take TACF’s breeding program to the next level.

His dissertation research studied the genetic enhancement of resin production in loblolly pine stems for use in liquid biofuels. Dr. Westbrook’s experience in genomics as it is applied to candidate gene discovery and breeding are tremendous assets to TACF’s restoration effort. He also possesses competency with R and ASReml, familiarity with mating designs and quantitative genetic analyses, and managing large-scale phenotyping screens.

Dr. Anna O. Conrad is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Plant Pathology at The Ohio State University. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Scholar at the Forest Health Research and Education Center at University of Kentucky. She received a PhD in Plant Pathology from The Ohio State University in 2015, where she examined metabolomics of oak in order to understand and predict resistance to Phytophthora ramorum, the causal agent of sudden oak death.

Dr. Conrad received a BS in Environmental Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2010. Her research interests are broadly focused on understanding how trees respond and adapt to biotic and abiotic stress. Currently, she is studying the application of spectroscopic-based methods for the identification of disease resistant forest trees.

Session 2 – Moderated by Tom Saielli, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator

Dr. Fred Paillet is Adjunct Professor of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas and Emeritus Research Scientist with the U S Geological Survey. He developed an interest in American chestnut in the 1970’s while investigating the ecological tolerances of forest trees as an indicator of past climates as reflected in the fossil pollen record. Since forest scientists at that time considered chestnut “dead and gone”, this required reconstruction of chestnut ecology almost from scratch. With the inception of the TACF this obscure endeavor suddenly achieved prominence along with real practical application.

Dr. Paillet had the privilege of working with Charles Burnham and Phil Rutter during the early days of the Foundation, and has participated in Foundation activities such as the study of virgin European chestnut forests in Russia, the evaluation of blight ecology in China and the investigation of American chestnut performance where the tree has been introduced beyond the reach of blight in the Midwest. Establishment of a retirement home in the Ozarks now provides the opportunity to study the endemic chestnut cousin that inhabits that region.

Dr. Scott Merkle is Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. He received his BS in Biology from the College of William and Mary and his MS and PhD in Forestry from Virginia Tech, working in the area of forest genetics and tree improvement. Following postdocs at Oregon State University and the University of Georgia, he joined the UGA Faculty in 1987, and teaches courses in Dendrology and Research in Forestry and Natural Resources.

Dr. Merkle’s lab has developed in vitro propagation systems for over a dozen forest tree species and hybrids, including yellow-poplar, multiple magnolias, sweetgum, American chestnut, black locust, green ash, eastern and Carolina hemlocks and longleaf pine. His research interests include using cell and tissue culture to propagate trees for germplasm conservation, species restoration, biomass energy and forest health applications.


Maisie MacKnight is a recent graduate from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. She graduated with her BSFR in Fisheries and Wildlife, but has been involved in Dr. Merkle’s tree tissue culture lab for over two years. In the position, she has maintained and propagated shoot cultures of over 20 genetic lineages, which are being used in the development of an in vitro assay for Phytophthora resistance in American chestnut hybrids.


12:00 – 1:00 PM – Atrium / Lounge    Lunch

1:00 – 2:45 PM    Afternoon Concurrent Educational Sessions 3 & 4

Session 3 – Moderated by Ben Jarrett, Southern Regional Science Coordinator

Jeremy Schmutz graduated from North Central College with a BS in computer science and a BA in Biology. While at college he worked on a new DNA sequencing technology at Argonne National Laboratory that led to his first research position developing parallel sequencing systems at a small silicon valley startup company. In 1996, he joined the newly formed Sequencing Group at the Stanford Human Genome Center to develop the computational infrastructure necessary for large scale DNA sequencing.

Schmutz and his group finished and assembled the human sequence of chromosomes 5, 16 and 19 as part of the Department of Energy (DOE) funded efforts at the Joint Genome Institute (JGI). He also led the quality assessment of the human genome sequence that evaluated the accuracy and completeness of the final human genome sequence. Following the Human Genome Project, he and his group expanded genomics along with the JGI into understanding the environment with work on fungi, algae, and plants.

In 2008, Schmutz transitioned to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, a new non-profit research institute dedicated to applying genomic technologies for the improvement of human health and agriculture. For the previous four years, he has led the JGI Plant Program focusing on community driven science for DOE JGI Plant Flagship Genomes with the goal of applying genomics to understand and improve DOE relevant biomass and cellulosic feedstock plants.

  • 2:00 – 2:45 PM – Big Spring Ballroom B   Topic: The ‘Darling’ American Chestnut
    by William Powell, PhD, Director of the Council on Biotechnology in Forestry, Faculty of Environmental & Forest Biology, College of Environmental Science & Forestry, Syracuse, NY ; Presented by Andrew Newhouse, Graduate Student Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, NY.

Dr. William A. Powell received his BS in biology in 1982 at Salisbury University, MD, and his PhD in 1986 at Utah State University studying the molecular mechanisms of hypovirulence in the chestnut blight fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica. He spent over two years as a postdoctoral associate at University of Florida researching transformation techniques using the fungal pathogen, Fusarium oxysporum. In 1989 he became a faculty member at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, NY, where he began collaborating with his colleague, Dr. Charles Maynard, researching methods to develop a blight-resistant American chestnut (Castanea dentata). He has also worked with American elm, Ozark Chinquapin, and hybrid poplar.

Dr. Powell currently has over 50 peer reviewed publications. He teaches courses in Principles of Genetics, Plant Biotechnology, How to Present Research to the Public, and Biotechnology Freshman orientation.


Andrew Newhouse is a graduate student from State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse, (SUNY-ESF). His graduate topic was Regulatory Biotechnology, focusing on the federal review process for genetically engineered plants to be distributed or used for restoration.


Session 4 – Moderated by Tom Saielli, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator

Dr. Jennifer Koslow earned an MS in Biology from the University of Miami (2001) and a PhD in Biology from Indiana University (2006). Since finishing her postdoctoral work at Cornell University, she has been an Assistant Professor at Eastern Kentucky University, starting in 2010. Her previous research involved studying the dynamics of fungal and viral infections of plants in natural systems. Her recent research focuses on applied ecology, especially the management of endangered species. She regularly teaches courses in ecology and evolution, with a primary specialty class in Plant Ecology.

Dr. Koslow first began working with The American Chestnut Foundation when assisting with inoculations at the Meades Landing Orchard in 2013. Since then, her involvement has centered on the seed orchard on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus that started in 2016.

Victor Vankus has been a Botanist and Certified Seed Analyst at the US Forest Service, National Seed Laboratory for thirty years. He manages the seed testing and quality assurance programs, provides technical assistance and training on seed collection, processing, testing, storage, germination. He works with restoration efforts across the country and is assisting agencies with the implementation of the National Seed Strategy for native species.

Vankus earned a BS degree in Botany from Eastern Illinois University (1988) and an MBA from Georgia College and State University (1995).


3:00 – 4:30 PM – Big Spring Ballroom B/C/D  Panel Discussion moderated by Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration, The American Chestnut Foundation

Panel Topic:  What You Always Wanted To Know About … (but were afraid to ask)


        • Jared Westbrook, PhD – Director of Science, The American Chestnut Foundation, Asheville, NC
        • Jennifer Koslow, PhD – Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY
        • William A. Powell, PhD – Director of the Council on Biotechnology in Forestry, Faculty of Environmental & Forest Biology, College of Environmental Science & Forestry, Syracuse, NY
        • Fred Paillet, PhD – Adjunct Professor of Geosciences, University of Arkansas, Emeritus Research Scientist U S Geological Survey, Fayetteville, AR
        • Jeanne Romero-Severson, PhD – Professor of Quantitative Genetics and Genomics, Biological Sciences Department; Director, Tree Genetics Core Facility, Forest Conservation and Tree Genetics, Program, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN  Read more about Dr. Romero-Severson here
        • Jeremy Schmutz – Faculty Investigator, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Huntsville, AL

4:30 – 5:30 PM – Marshall Room    Student Poster Judging

5:30 – 6:30 PM – Marshall Room/Atrium  Student Poster Presentation and Reception including Embassy Suites Manager Special Social Hour with complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres

6:30 – 9:30 PM – Von Braun Center – South Ballroom 2 & 3  35th Anniversary Gala Dinner (with cash bar), featuring a Special 35th Anniversary Presentation by Mark L. Double, Research Associate in Plant Pathology, West Virginia University

Topic:  The American Chestnut Foundation–Looking Back on 35 Years
The groundbreaking ceremony to dedicate the Wagner research farm in Meadowview, VA occurred on April 15, 1989. Dr. Charles Burnham donated 30 backcross trees (75% American) that were planted on that cold, spring afternoon. Much has happened since the early days of  The American Chestnut Foundation,  we will highlight some of the people and events over the past 35 years.


Thank you to our 2018 Annual Meeting sponsors!

Schatz Tree Genetics ColloquiumDESE Research, Inc.



Bank Independent


First South Farm Credit