American Chestnut and elm planted at UVa-Wise

Students plant seedlingsA year after the planting of American chestnuts on The University of Virginia’s College at Wise campus, volunteers continue to keep the restoration project going.

More than a dozen UVa-Wise students and faculty, along with members of the Virginia Department of Forestry and Green Forests Work organization, planted 50 first generation blight resistant American Chestnut seeds and 18 seedlings on March 27. As part of the Department of Forestry’s Restoration 1.0 project, 50 American elm seedlings were planted along with the chestnut trees.

Approximately three and a half acres of former mined land, now part of the College’s campus now nurture a variety of hardwood species native to the region.

The living outdoor classroom allows UVa-Wise students to monitor and understand the challenges associated with reclamation efforts in the region.

A year ago, students and volunteers initiated the first planting session of American chestnuts to a portion of campus that had been mined three times since the 1950’s.

Student planters“The chestnuts planted today are 15/16’ths American but have been genetically bred with the blight resistant Chinese chestnut,” said biology professor Walter Smith. “Likewise, the American Elms being planted are similar in that they have been crossed with a Dutch elm disease resistant species to provide greater longevity.”

Nathan Hall, a reforestation coordinator with Green Forest Work, an independent non profit organization dedicated to ecosystem recovery, demonstrated seed planting to prevent predatory damage using special housing designed to prevent animals from damaging or removing newly planted seed.

“The greatest challenge we have experienced with this site has been compaction,” said Bill Miller of the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Due to extensive use of heavy mining equipment over a prolonged time on the surface, the soil was initially too dense to sustain trees like the chestnut. The surface underwent a process known as deep ripping in order to soften it enough to allow trees to root properly.”Student planters

“Reclaiming the land provides a vast amount of positive benefits for the environment and community,” said Hall. “Replanting promotes water quality, animal habitats and economic opportunities.”

Reclamation efforts are initiated and supported by the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative. The Virginia Department of Forestry partners with industry, state agencies, landowners, citizen, environmental groups, inspectors and academic organizations to reclaim coal-mined land.