Douglas J. Buege,
took Mother Nature 85
million years to develop the American chestnut; it took Americans less
years to nearly wipe it out!
In the summer of 2004,
Douglas Buege set out to determine the fate of one of the earliest and
beloved victims of the 20th Century, the fabled American
chestnut. Eastern states, particularly Pennsylvania and New York, fought to save their precious native
only minor short-term success following the introduction of a disease
discovered in 1904. After the deadly
fungal blight massacred more than 3 billion chestnuts throughout Appalachia and New England, decades passed before the American
Foundation and the American
Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation developed
plans to rescue the species. Buege spent
time at Virginia’s Meadowview Research Farm with plant
Fred Hebard of the ACF before meeting up with Gary and Lucille Griffin of the ACCF. John Elkins showed him the finer points of
grafting chestnut in West Virginia. Back home
in Wisconsin, he roamed the largest remaining stand of
chestnut outside West
near LaCrosse, and learned the ropes of
agroforestry and permaculture under the tutelage of Mark Shepard. Badgersett
nut breeder Philip Rutter showed
Buege the errors forest pathologists make that lead to rabid
in the name of saving the woods.
Michigan agriculture professor Dennis Fulbright and Connecticut
Agricultural Experimental Station’s Sandra Anagnostakis round out the
intriguing players detailed in If a Tree
Falls: Rediscovering the Great American Chestnut, Buege’s ode to
chestnut and the disparate means of rescuing the tree (which might not
For anyone interested in
saving endangered species and recovering damaged ecosystems, If a Tree Falls offers a critical,
impassioned tale of warning. Beginning
with a historical analysis of early responses to chestnut blight,
Governor Tener’s convening of the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight
in 1911, Buege contrasts European and American approaches to fighting
blight. French plant breeder Jean Grente
employed his genius to rescue French chestnuts.
His techniques have yet to help American researchers perform
miracles in the US. Historical
analysis leads to
examination of contemporary breeding programs.
The foibles of human pursuits arise: personalities clash, toes
stepped on, animosities fester. Yet,
the American chestnut persists, humbly hiding in the backwoods of Virginia as if waiting for the plague of
humans to vanish
before making its resurgence.
About Douglas Buege
Since earning a doctorate in Philosophy
in 1993, I've written chapters for books, articles in both academic and
popular press, and published the chestnut book. You can peruse
some of the resulting articles
clever, you might even locate a web-based resume there as well.
To read an excerpt from If a Tree Falls,
To email the author, click here.