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MD’s Susquehannock Wildlife Society brings American chestnut back to their local ecosystem

Newly-planted American chestnuts at the SWS Wildlife Center property in Harford County, MD. Photo by Scott McDaniel.

The Susquehannock Wildlife Society (SWS) is proud to announce that a new American chestnut restoration project is underway on our 20-acre Wildlife Center property in Harford County, MD, thanks to the generous donation of forty seedlings from TACF. This project began after SWS had to cut most of our Green ash trees due to damage caused by the invasive emerald ash borer. Learning in 2021 that the Maryland Darter would be declared extinct (our only endemic fish species), this project felt needed more than ever.

The mighty American chestnut tree was part of our not-too-long-past culture and remains so. Sustaining rural communities and, of course, Indigenous Americans for millennia before, this tree also provided both food and shelter for many species of wildlife, including huge flocks of now-extinct passenger pigeons. The American chestnut helped build our nation with its light yet strong, rot-resistant wood used for railroads, telephone poles, and many of our early buildings, including the state of Maryland.

We have sought out established American chestnut seedlings for some time without success. Inspired by our long-time interest in the trees, we visited an established and fenced-in orchard in Frederick County when we stumbled upon a volunteer who helps manage the orchard. After a wonderful and educational conversation, we were connected to Gary Carver, TACF Board Emeritus, who offered to supply us with trees grown through a cooperative program with a Maryland correctional facility. We retrieved the trees from Gary, who provided us with a wealth of knowledge and history. We then planted and caged the seedlings; some wild-type American and a handful of American hybrids. The seedlings were planted along the forested edge of a fairly rocky hillside that borders our meadow restoration area.

Though we expect the blight to eventually find its way to our wild-type American trees, this project contributes to the research toward a blight-resistant American chestnut in future forests. We look forward to using the new exhibit as an educational tool, and we are eager to maintain and watch our tiny trees grow for as long as possible. These seedlings represent an early stage of what we hope will become a grand return of the American chestnut tree.

For more information about the Susquehannock Wildlife Society, please follow us on social media or visit our website www.suskywildlife.org.