The Epic Saga of the American Chestnut
The American chestnut may well be the greatest and most useful forest tree to ever grow on this Earth. Its decline is considered by many ecologists to be one of the greatest ecological disasters to strike the US since European contact. But how did it happen? And are we on track to bring back this amazing tree?
The following excerpt is from Trees of Power by Akiva Silver. It has been adapted for the web.
It is hard for us today to understand what was lost because we did not witness it.
Imagine working in your yard and noticing an apple tree with wilted leaves. A few weeks later, the tree dies. You’re sad about this and tell a friend, who tells you that they had the same thing happen. Then you hear it from lots of people. It’s on the news. Apple trees are dying, orchards are wiped out, wild trees disappear. No one knows what to do. Before you know it there are no cider barns, no crisp fruits to sink your teeth into, no apple blossoms in the spring, no fruit in the supermarket. How would you feel? As the years go on, you might try to explain to young people what an apple tasted like, what it felt like to bite into apples; you might describe the trees’ gnarly growth habits or the smell of cider in the barn or the taste of applesauce. They would never understand. The apple tree would be gone and life would go on. Other trees would be there, but none would be the apple. This is basically what happened to the American chestnut. The chestnut was no less loved or used than apples are today. It was a tree with full cultural, economic, and wild significance. We are the people who were born after its loss. All we have are the stories and a handful of pictures to go by.
Castanea dentata dominated the eastern US, making up roughly one-fourth of the trees in its range. This is a huge percentage, considering the diversity found in the eastern deciduous forests. Even maples, oaks, and ash are not that common.
American chestnut trunks were massive, often 10 feet or more in diameter, with canopies reaching 130 feet in the air.
These arrow-straight, towering trunks were made of high-quality, rot-resistant timber. The wood was used for barn beams, house framing, furniture, telegraph poles, fence posts, paper pulp, caskets, and cradles. There is no wood so versatile as American chestnut. It has the durability of black locust, the straight grain and splittability of ash; it’s as stable and easy to work as pine, and very fast growing.
The wood value alone would have made the American chestnut a highly valuable tree. Adding the dependable crops of nuts makes this tree stand alone in its excellence. The wildlife value of American chestnut was unparalleled, as nuts could fill the forest floor more than a foot deep in some years. Along with wildlife, people also ate wild American chestnuts. They grazed their animals under these magnanimous giants during the fall and gathered nuts by hand. Chestnuts were collected in great quantities throughout the Appalachian Mountains, and roasted and sold on the streets of towns like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Train-car loads were filled with this wild crop. Today many families find financial relief with their end-of-year tax credit. Back then people found their Christmas bonus in the form of selling what chestnuts they could gather in the mountains.
The American chestnut was a keystone species in the ecology of the Appalachians.
It was culturally fixed in the minds of Americans, and used widely. Tanneries cranked out leather that was processed with the tannins of chestnut bark, paper mills pulped the wood, railroad companies laid track with timbers, people built barns and houses, fences, and chairs. They ate the nuts raw and roasted every fall. And then it all crashed.
In 1904 chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, was discovered in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. From there it spread like a wildfire, consuming trees and turning forests of green into silvery gray ghost woods. Within just 25 years an estimated four billion trees died. An entire ecology, an entire culture, was wiped out. While the trees were dying, the US Forest Service advised people to have all their chestnuts logged. Believing there was no hope, they told folks to get some lumber out of it while they still could. We will never know how many resistant trees were killed in this shortsighted practice. Sadly, this mindset persists today, as foresters commonly advise landowners to log all their ash and hemlock trees before the coming crash.
Cryphonectria parasitica is a fungus whose spores spread by wind. Its origins lie in Asia, where trees there have co-evolved with the fungus. When Japanese chestnut seedlings were brought over to the US for people’s gardens, no one noticed that these seemingly healthy trees carried the blight with them. The American chestnut had never encountered this fungus and so had almost zero resistance. People scrambled to save the chestnut tree in vain, employing all sorts of strange strategies over the next several decades before giving up for the most part.
There were some really wonderful early attempts at saving the American chestnut, notably the work of Arthur Graves. He planted several thousand seeds of anything he could get his hands on, including every species of chestnut from around the world. He crossed every species and then crossed the resulting hybrids. Many of his trees are still alive and maintained to this day at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station by the committed and innovative work of Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis. Graves was never able to find the winning combination of a true timber-type tree and full blight resistance—though he found many trees that came close. The work of Graves and Anagnostakis continues today. Dr. Anagnostakis continues to plant trees, make controlled crosses, and spread hypovirulence. Today the Connecticut Agricultural Station and Sleeping Giant State Park are home to the largest repository of chestnut genetics in the world.
Other attempts at saving the American chestnut included cutting out all the trees in a large swath of land across Pennsylvania to act as a kind of rebreak. The budget for this project was enormous but could not keep up with the winds that carried blight spores. In the 1950s, when nuclear power was at the height of popularity, people irradiated nuts to hopefully invoke a mutation. Of course, this failed miserably.
As the years wore on, and generations passed, interest in the chestnut grew less and less. The American chestnut became a legend, with little practical hope of recovery. That is, until two visionary men in the 1970s, Dr. Charles Burnham and Phil Rutter, came up with a plan. It was simple enough: Cross American trees with resistant Chinese trees. The resultant seedlings would then be backcrossed with American trees again and again until they had a tree that would behave like the American chestnut of ancient forests. The tree they worked to create would have fifteen-sixteenths American genetics. This would take several generations of crosses. Dr. Burnham knew he would never live to see the full breeding program to its completion, but he started it nevertheless as a selfless act. This was the beginning of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF).
TACF would go on to plant thousands and thousands of seeds from multiple lines of genetics. For every tree they leave to grow, hundreds are cut down in this rigorous and highly organized breeding program. Today TACF has trees that are fifteen-sixteenths American and display both timber form and blight resistance. These trees are being planted experimentally in parks, at private homes, at institutions, and in reforestation efforts.
Many folks continue to plant and grow 100 percent pure American trees as well as hybrids. American chestnut seed is available through TACF state chapters. The trees grow quickly. They typically live for 15 years before succumbing to blight. In this time they produce small crops of nuts and excellent pole wood. Since the blight cannot kill the root system, the trees sprout back after the blight knocks them down. They can be kept going indefinitely in a coppice system. Growing American chestnuts from seed also expands the genetics of this magnificent species.
There are other programs in action today. The American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation grows only 100 percent pure American chestnuts. They maintain trees that exhibit resistance through grafting and seed collection.
SUNY’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, along with the New York chapter of TACF, is genetically engineering blight-resistant chestnuts. They have introduced a wheat gene to resist the fungus. The trees are currently not released for public planting pending government approval. This program is considered by some native-plant enthusiasts to be superior to the traditional breeding program of TACF because the trees are less “contaminated” with Chinese genetics. However, it’s interesting to note that Chinese chestnut and American chestnut share most of each other’s genes; the hybrids that TACF grows are actually over 99 percent genetically American chestnut.
The story of the American chestnut is far from over.
Today we can grow resistant hybrids or pure American trees. We can bring this species back into our parks, homes, and wildlands. There really is no reason not to. Millions and millions of people live in the range of the American chestnut. If just 1 percent of them chose to plant a few trees, we’d have a lot of chestnut trees around.
GivingTuesday is a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world on December 3, 2019 and every day.
It was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past seven years, this idea has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.
One of the best ways to get involved is in your own community. We’ve created a directory to help you find organizations, events, and ways to give back in your own community.
Repeal The Second Amendment? That’s Not So Simple. Here’s What It Would Take
“My God! How little do my countryman know that precious blessing they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy.”
— Thomas Jefferson, 1743 -1826, America Founding Father, Author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd President of the United States
Addressing the Teacher Shortage Problem
The national teacher shortage is at an all-time high, and lawmakers are looking for solutions on the federal level and in state legislatures across the country. In the 116th Congress, lawmakers have offered several solutions to the teacher shortage problem, such as providing incentives for teachers in rural (S. 1157) or reservation (S. 1161) schools or establishing award grants for local education agencies to expand various training, recruitment, and retention programs (S.2367). State legislatures are also active on this issue. In 2019, 43 states passed bills that addressed teacher shortages, teacher licensure requirements, or alternative routes to licensure.
Given the shortages that exist in many communities, particularly within urban, rural, high-poverty, and high-minority schools, as well as within specific subject areas, such as STEM and special education. As such, states are generally look at four policy levers to address teacher shortage.
Removing Barriers to Entry
A number of states have attempted to increase the pool of teacher candidates by eliminating or altering steps in the licensure process. For example, in 2019, Florida modified requirements surrounding the General Knowledge test (known as the “GK”), which is the basic skills test all teacher candidates are required to pass. Among other changes, teachers going through an alternative certification route—meaning they are already teaching in the classroom—now have up to two additional years to pass the GK. Meanwhile, Illinois recently eliminated their basic skills test altogether. Other states are making it easier to recruit out-of-state teachers by expanding reciprocity agreements for licensure. For example, Virginia passed a law in 2019 that gives teachers with a valid out-of-state license reciprocity without have to pass additional licensing assessments.
Creating Career Pathways
Another trend among states is creating what has become known as “career pathways” to encourage new talent into the pipeline or to help retain the best teachers by expanding their professional opportunities. For instance, lawmakers in Kansas have created two pilot initiatives to help fill open teaching positions, including a “fast-track” option for paraprofessionals to become special education teachers. In 2018, Illinois created and funded a program to recruit bilingual high school students to become bilingual teachers and counselors. On the other end of the spectrum, some states have allowed retired teachers to return to the classroom while still receiving full benefits.
Providing Financial Incentives
By far the most popular recruitment tool–but also the most challenging to fund–is increasing base pay for teachers. In February of 2019, EdWeek reported that 22 governors discussed raising teacher pay in their State of the State addresses. Arkansas lawmakers passed the “Teacher Salary Enhancement Act,” which increases the minimum teacher salary by $1,000 over the next four years, from $31,400 to $36,000. Texas significantly increased funding for teacher salaries in 2019, with estimates that veteran teachers could get raises of up to $4000, depending on the district. Earlier this month, Florida’s governor announced his proposal to raise starting salaries to $47,500, which would make Florida one of top states for starting salary in the nation. If funded, it would likely replace Florida’s “Best & Brightest” program, which currently provides $2000 bonuses to all teachers, at a total cost of $480 million.
Creating Alternative Routes to Licensure
States are also creating alternate routes to licensure to address teacher shortages. Recognizing that prerequisites to become a licensed teacher may prohibit individuals looking to switch careers to become teachers, Virginia passed a law in 2019 that directs the Board of Education to provide a new alternative route to licensure for elementary preK-6 and special education general curriculum licensure. Importantly, the candidate must still meet the qualifying scores on the professional teacher’s assessment, but by allowing an alternate route to licensure, Virginia hopes to see an increase in qualified licensed teachers.
“Teacher shortage is a real issue across the country which is paving the way for updated policies on how to systemically address it. Our goal has been to work with policymakers to attract, retain, and grow the pipeline of qualified teachers through the entire certification process while meeting the needs of each state. That means working closely with candidates, school districts, human resource professionals, and campus principals to meet the demands of their classrooms.”
– Dave Saba, Chief Development Officer, Teachers of Tomorrow
Read more on national education trends from MWC’s National Education Team:
Happy Halloween 2019!
2019 Election Season
Whether this is your first time voting or standard duty for decades, there is no such thing as too much information.
Below are links about How to Register and Where to Vote
HeadCount provides voter registration assistance on a strictly nonpartisan basis to any U.S. citizen age 18 or over without regard to political affiliation, race, religion, or age.
When, Where, and How: The details
Issues and Candidates: Know before you Go
Organizations: Get Involved
A solo practitioner in a lawyers group asked what is a fair wage to pay a law clerk who is still in school. The responses went all over the place. Some paid little more than minimum wage while others paid slightly more. One paid a lot more. Since there is no recommended minimum as exists with the major law firms, it is anybody’s guess.
Some based their answers on what they got paid when they were a 3L. Others based the pay on the number of applicants they received. Or they base it on what they thought was the going rate by asking around or searching online.
The short answer is you can pay whatever you can get away with.
But just because you can pay a small wage to a law student, does it mean that you should? I have heard the typical reasons for not paying a lot to law students. They come with little-to-no experience, are likely to make mistakes, and the employer (and the client) should not have to pay for that. Also, since most law student jobs are likely to be temporary, the law student might not notice the higher wage. The on-the-job experience they receive is more valuable than the money. And some firms just cannot afford to pay more than the bare minimum.
Some have said that the pay is comparable to similar positions in government. While government jobs generally pay less than the private sector, the training is usually better, the work is less stressful, and employers generally prefer people with government experience. Most small firms cannot offer similar intangible benefits like these.
I may sound crazy or financially wasteful, but I think it would be beneficial in the long run for small firms to pay higher than market rate for law students. Why?
For starters, you will generally attract better employees. I know this sounds obvious but most lawyers aren’t famous for their business acumen. Let’s face it, money talks. Especially when law students today have $300,000+ of student loan debt chasing them. The best firms tend to pay the best salaries. A higher salary means that you will get candidates who actually want to work for you instead of seeing you as a last resort résumé gap filler. They will be motivated to stay and go the extra mile since they know they are paid better than their classmates.
Also, you should see this as an investment. You see, these 3Ls will one day become your colleagues, potential referral sources, or co-counsel. The sad truth is that some of them may end up being paid less as new attorneys. And others may not find jobs at all. A few years ago, I wrote about why small firm junior associates are paid relatively little. I think the struggle for new attorneys will continue, especially if Siri is one day allowed to give legal advice. You may be the one bright spot in their lives and they will remember you when they need to refer potential clients.
Of course, there are some steps you should take to make sure you don’t end up paying more than necessary. Start new law student hires on a part-time basis and with tasks that are appropriate for their skill level. If the new hire is not performing well, it is best to let him go as soon as possible.
This post was not meant to be a definitive “how to” on hiring clerks or staff in general. I only hope that it will make employers think twice before deciding to pay law clerks the least amount as possible. Most of us probably remember what it was like to work as a law clerk during law school. We did our best, no matter how much we were paid. Employers who pay the bare minimum usually end up with employees who do the bare minimum. Attorneys only have their reputation. This not only applies to future clients but also to future employees. If you want to attract the best talent, you will have to be known for paying for the best.
Today as a nation we are smarter in using energy and improving efficiencies because we have to be. By an example, it is documented that we can now deliver over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to meet global climate goals because we have improved energy efficiencies! If that is the case with energy then just think that if we can mimic efficiencies and alter some of the ways our business work just by avoiding duplicating efforts we can use that extra time in other areas in our organization. In addition, if small and mid-sized firms use automated processes whenever possible, that too will help minimize resources needed in our businesses. To be the most profitable and be a small law firm there is a need to do more with less. We have to begin thinking of building something worthwhile with what we have but which will improve productivity. We have to have a way to measure productivity and then we have to evaluate whether our goals can be met. In short, in order not to just stay in the race but to stay ahead, there is definitely a lot more we can do to create efficiencies. Part of that is to retain the personnel we have. Part of it is using our time more productively. Part of it is holding people more accountable. Part of it is using automated processes. Part of it is avoiding duplications. Part of it is evaluating where changes can be made.
The Nancy Grimes Simple Rules of Doing More with Less
1) Don’t try to offer everything to your clients.
2) Keep Focused on the Goals.
3) Evaluate everything you and your team does and discard duplicate processes.
4) Change the rules mid-stream and become more nimble and flexible, as needed.