Experimental orchard planted to bring back the extinct American chestnut

Since the 1800s, the American chestnut tree has struggled to survive. Ink disease followed by chestnut blight killed billions of trees from Appalachia to Michigan. Though some are still scattered across the country, the chestnut has been functionally extinct for 70 years.

But scientists in Maine are hoping to bring back the keystone species and create the “biggest ecological turnaround in North American history.” Thomas Klak, professor of environmental studies at the University of New England, recently helped develop a strain of American chestnut resistant to the blight that has decimated their numbers. And in May 2021, the federal government approved a plan to plant hundreds of these chestnut seedlings in an experimental orchard in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

In a few years, the genetically engineered chestnuts will be introduced to the fungus that decimated its ancestors, and until then, the jury is out on if these trees will ever make their way into the wild.

Nation’s largest heat-mapping project planned for Virginia

Colleges and universities across 10 Virginia cities are coming together to conduct the first large-scale statewide heat-mapping project to understand how temperatures vary from city block to city block. During Summer 2021, students and volunteers recorded ambient air temperature and relative humidity data from locations with plenty of trees and vegetation, as well as in industrial areas and locations with a lot of asphalt in cities like Arlington, Richmond, Salem and Virginia Beach. The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges has organized the project, and colleges will use the data in courses and research projects. Urban forestry professionals can also use the data to help identify places that need more tree cover. This level of analysis can be useful to cities as they grow and make decisions about where to plant more trees and where to place cooling centers. The project also aims to foster relationships between schools and residents, community leaders and local government.

Mushrooms provide natural method for cleaning up hazardous waste

When wildfires roar through a community, they not only leave death and destruction in their wake, they also leave hazardous waste. Charred paint, pesticides, cleaning products, electronics, pressure-treated wood and propane tanks deposit a range of pollutants in the soil — including arsenic, asbestos, copper, hexavalent chromium, lead and zinc. Runoff from this toxic ash could pollute local creeks, impacting water supplies and wildlife.

Over the past several years, forest advocates have championed “mycoremediation,” an experimental bioremediation technique that uses mushrooms to clean up hazardous waste, harnessing their natural ability to use enzymes to break down foreign substances.

Proponents say it’s a natural — and potentially cheaper — alternative to the “scrape-and-burn” approach to environmental cleanup, which involves digging up contaminated soil and incinerating it, often negatively impacting potentially fertile topsoil. While more testing and research is needed, the coming fire seasons will, unfortunately, provide plenty of opportunity to do so.

Neglected forestland turned “Peace Park”

For years, 10 acres of ignored Baltimore forestland was used for illegal dumping until one pastor saw it for what it could be: an oasis of greenspace for worship and fellowship. Pastor Michael Martin of Stillmeadow Community Fellowship brought together a diverse group of people — worshipers, environmentalists, neighbors and students — to cut down dead trees and pot over 1,000 new trees, between June 2020 and May 2021, to create a nursery. As the new poplar and willow trees grow, organizers believe so will the faith and peace of those who come to enjoy the space for years to come. Ultimately, Stillmeadow hopes to expand the greenspace by planting more trees to help create a healthy urban forest complete with trails, meditation stations and gardens. Stillmeadow PeacePark will serve as a place for people, especially those of faith, to connect with nature.