USDA APHIS seeks public comments on their evaluations of blight-tolerant American chestnut trees

Deadline to submit comments is 11:59 pm December 27, 2022

Asheville, NC, Dec. 15, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) —

Research scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) are partnering in their efforts to return the American chestnut tree to its native range.

Once one of the largest tree species in the eastern forests of North America, the American chestnut could reach towering heights in the forest canopy. A bountiful annual crop of chestnuts offered an important food source for wildlife, livestock, and people. The chestnut’s rot-resistant wood was used in a variety of ways, from furniture building to structural timber. The American chestnut was devastated by a fungal blight discovered in the early 1900s, and the tree is now considered to be functionally extinct.

A team of researchers at ESF has been working in collaboration with TACF to produce a blight-tolerant American chestnut variety using genetic engineering. These transgenic trees, known as Darling 58 (D58), have demonstrated effective tolerance to blight infections with less damage, making them a promising part of future restoration plans. Several lines of D58 chestnuts have been thoroughly tested, and years of evidence suggest that these trees are safe and are the functional equivalent of non-transgenic chestnuts, simply with the added benefit of blight tolerance. 

“Compared to many bleak reports about our natural environment in today’s news, the possibility of actually restoring a threatened native tree offers some much-needed hope,” says Dr. Andrew Newhouse, co-director of the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project at ESF. 

Three government agencies have to complete reviews of D58 chestnuts before they can be distributed for planting. The first of these agencies, USDA-APHIS, is conducting an intensive review generally focused on the safety of the trees for people and for the environment. After nearly three years of research and investigations, USDA-APHIS has recently published drafts of two key documents for their review process. These documents, a Plant Pest Risk Assessment (PPRA) and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), are draft versions of their final regulatory decisions on the D58 trees. 

“We’re pleased that regulatory review with Darling 58 is progressing, and optimistic about the future of American chestnut restoration,” says Newhouse.  

These documents state that the “Darling 58 American chestnut is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk” (draft EIS, p. 3-3) and acknowledge that environmental impacts associated with planting D58 American chestnuts are likely to be either positive or similar to planting other types of chestnuts. 

Lisa Thomson, President & CEO of TACF says, “We have thousands of members and volunteers who are enthusiastically embracing this promising biotechnology as an important tool to bring back not only American chestnuts, but encourage healthier, diverse forests.”

USDA-APHIS is inviting members of the public and representatives from organizations to submit their opinions on the deregulation of D58 chestnuts as a part of the open comment period associated with the publication of the PPRA and EIS. ESF and TACF encourage individuals to take advantage of this time to share comments on what American chestnut restoration means to them as USDA-APHIS prepares to finalize its decision.

“TACF is proud to be a part of this innovative and positive action not only for the American chestnut, but also larger-scale forest sustainability and health. We look forward to setting a template for tree species rescue and restoration that can help other species also in peril,” says Sara Fitzsimmons, TACF Chief Conservation Officer.

Comments can be submitted using this link: The open comment period will close at 11:59pm on December 27, 2022.

About The American Chestnut Foundation

Our mission is to return the iconic American chestnut to its native range. Our vision is a robust eastern forest restored to its splendor.

TACF is a 501(c)(3) conservation organization headquartered in Asheville, NC, with four regional offices in Asheville, Charlottesville, VA, South Burlington, VT, and State College, PA. TACF’s Meadowview Research Farms is located in Meadowview, VA. To learn about TACF’s mission, visit Join the effort to rescue the American chestnut tree by becoming a member. Find us on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

CONTACT: Jules Smith The American Chestnut Foundation 828-772-4291 [email protected] 

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