The Eastern woodlands lost a mainstay of its ecology and beauty a century ago when the American chestnut tree became nearly extinct from an Asian blight.
But last week, the US Forest Service signed a deal to reintroduce a blight-resistant species that's being bred by the nonprofit American Chestnut Foundation.
The chestnut's return will mark another success story in restoring key species - such as bald eagles, beavers, and wolves - to the environment. The mighty chestnut, which can grow up to 120 feet high, once commanded up to one-quarter of Eastern forests. Its billions of nuts were irreplaceable to many birds and mammals. If abundant enough to harvest, this new rot-resistant timber could even replace pressure-treated wood.
For two decades, the foundation has carefully crossbred surviving American chestnuts with a fungus-resistant Chinese variety. The technique has required six generations of trees and many volunteers working in diverse plantations to succeed.
When finally sold commercially, the chestnut once again will grace both forests and streetscapes alike.