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The American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project

Progress Report: Moving Closer to 10,000

In the year since launching our very successful “Ten Thousand Chestnut Challenge,” many strides have been made towards achieving our goal.

2017 NY Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation Meeting

The 27th Annual meeting of the New York chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation will be held on the ESF campus in Syracuse, NY. Mark your calendars for the evening of October 20 and the day of October 21.

  • Details and registration coming soon!

TACF-NY, Science and Regulatory Director Observations, John Dougherty

I have been a volunteer with TACF-NY since 2002. I took on this position in the organization from the research visionary, Stan Wirsig, who believed TACF needed to place more than one scientific technology bet for the restoration of the American chestnut…he and Herb Darling added the biotechnology component at our chapter 26 years ago. Plant science biotechnology was at its infancy in annual crops and had not been tried with forestry. Truly theirs was a visionary commitment to an emerging science for an unmet need.

Likewise, the systematic scientific work of Dr. Charles Maynard and Dr. Bill Powell and their students and technicians to tackle the chestnut blight problem over 26 years has been a heroic effort of ingenuity and perseverance. Their program is a commitment to the rigors of science and, as first class educators, the transparency of information and transfer of knowledge to the world.

Man with Trees

I am proud to be a member of an organization committed to the application of modern science to solve an ecological disaster. Ninety nine plus percent of the American chestnut population is gone from the world because of human activity of importing Asian chestnut trees to the United States loaded with the Asian fungal chestnut blight. Every time I see a container shipment train pass from Asia I wonder in what way as a consumer I may inadvertently bringing the next ecological calamity to our forest and North American ecosystem.

I know that this organization (TACF – NY) in collaboration with ESF is embarking on one of the most important ecological u turns that USA will accomplish in the 21 st century. I know this from listening to the stories of my grandfather, uncles and father who remembered the forest and these magnificent trees in Pennsylvania. Adults normally do not get visibly sad when talking about a tree species.

The number one question I get from other TACF members is when will I be able to plant these blight resistant trees that I have seen on the plots, web sites or at the annual meeting presentations? We must first clear the federal deregulation process for biotechnology traits.

So my role is to try to help Dr. Maynard and Dr. Powell through the labyrinth called the federal deregulation process. So let us talk about the process.

We are fortunate to live in the USA versus, say Europe. In the USA, we have a well- established (over 20 years) science based regulatory system. Whereas, Europe has a system where the scientific regulatory system recommends approvals to plants and the politicians, with no scientific training, choose to make no decisions. So plant science biotechnology languishes in a “Dark Age of Fear and Ignorance”.

However, the USA system is very thorough, systematic and takes time. Three agencies are involved in the approval before we can plant; USDA/APHIS, EPA and FDA. For each agency, we must submit a dossier of studies that center on their area of expertise. The ESF data will be reviewed by very well qualified scientists at these agencies. The process takes 3-5 years. When we are done, we will have satisfied the agencies in order to have the right to plant. The agencies will have concluded that our lead event transgenic American chestnut tree has the same characteristics as one of the few surviving pure American chestnut. That this blight resistant American chestnut has no increased risk adverse effects to humans, animals, insects invertebrate, flora and fauna in the forest eco system than the American chestnut that is susceptible to the blight.

As of this summer 2015, the ESF researchers have selected a lead event line to go through this process from several outstanding alternatives.

Small Stem Chestnut Blight

We have started the dialogue with EPA and USDA so that we understand the guidelines and apply those guidelines correctly to our chestnut dossier. Deregulation is a case by case science based gauntlet. Each gene, each pest problem, each crop system, each construct and each eco system is unique. Therefore it is an iterative process of making submissions to agencies. The data and studies are then reviewed. Questions are asked by the agencies. New studies are designed to answer those new questions. There will be in the late stages of the process, after all the data has been reviewed, a period for open comment from the general public, including TACF-NY members.

Therefore our goal is in each edition of the Bur, TACF Journal, ESF and TACF websites to keep you as current on our knowledge as possible. We will at our meetings tell all we know. We are about science and transparency. We welcome questions that can be addressed by scientific experiments with objectives and hypothesis. You will know about the same time frame the same information as the agencies receive the information. By your memberships over the decades, you have earned our respect for your commitment to learn the science and facts. Most importantly the time spent in the field becoming experts on growing and maintaining the biodiversity of the American chestnuts in our orchards and at your homes makes you the living experts on the American chestnut. Your chestnut and forestry insight and experience will far surpasses 95% of the general population that has never planted a chestnut tree or anti- biotechnology antagonist making obscure comments during these periods of open input. We will welcome your field restoration sweat and your historical experience being shared at these forums.

We are fortunate to have a volunteer group of PhD scientists that are familiar with the regulatory process from crops that are acting as advisors to ESF. These scientists represent a depth and breadth of knowledge that should help ESF and TACF-NY do the correct studies, in the correct order, with the correct design and level of statistical compliance. This team of advisors should take the naive factor out of our dossier preparation effort.

Our master of science level project technician who many of you know, Andy Newhouse, has accepted to become a PhD candidate focused one hundred percent of the time on completing the dossier and be a focal writing and science point person for this project. This will be the first time any university worldwide has ever attempted to run the regulatory gauntlet. This is also world first for a collaborative not- for- profit effort for a biotechnology deregulation and species restoration.

So our goal is to keep you informed. We know you are planting pure mother chestnut trees and maintaining these orchards for the day when we can cross the resistant tree pollen with those trees. With luck, when in your back yard and orchard about the time they are in full bloom in 3-5 years, we will have an approved source of pollen or father tree seedlings to start the restoration process.

We will put a question section on our website for you to enter your questions over the next 3-5 years. Each time the Bur is published in the future our goal will be to publish in this column our latest science based answer to those questions.

John Dougherty
Volunteer Science and Regulatory Directory TACF-NY