An aggressive fungus killed away billions of American chestnuts a hundred years ago. Scientists are now striving to bring the tree back to its former splendor after years of neglect.
Director of the American Chestnut Foundation’s restoration Sara FitzSimmons knows she won’t be able to see the final product of her efforts. Trees have a considerably longer life cycle than that.
Fitzsimmons has spent over two decades attempting to resurrect the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). The eastern USA and southern Ontario, Canada’s woodlands were initially dominated by these essential species. An invasive pathogen was mistakenly spread by imported Asian trees, mainly employed as ornamental plants and in farms over a century ago, resulting in chestnut blight exposure.
The number of chestnut trees in the United States has decreased from between three and five billion to a maximum of 435 million, a decrease of 84 percent.
The American Chestnut Foundation, for example, is working to create a new variety of chestnut trees that is immune to blight and may get reintroduced to the wild. What is the date? To have an environmental effect with millions of sprouts on the terrain, Fitzsimmons estimates that it will take between 150 and 200 years.
Humanity and their mode of living relied heavily on American chestnut trees before the blight. Farmers could feed their pigs and turkeys chestnut nuts when the trees were plentiful. In addition to gathering nuts for food and commerce, they did a lot of foraging.
They found that the trees’ wood was strong enough for use in constructions such as shingles and beams, as well as for flooring in residences, railroad ties, and telephone poles.
Better Chestnuts for the United States
Contrary to popular belief, chestnut trees aren’t extinct despite the widespread destruction. They’re not even on the endangered species list.
A protective layer of soil microorganisms keeps the blight fungus from reaching the trees’ roots. As a result, American chestnut trees have a unique ability to persist deep in the ground.
Chestnut trees now are dwarfed by their progenitors, who grew up to 100 feet tall and had trunk diameters of 10 feet or more.
For its efforts to save the American chestnut from blight, the organization uses a breeding and biotechnology-based strategy. The American Chestnut Foundation uses backcross breeding as one of its methods. Select and transfer desirable traits from one variation to another using this strategy.
The ultimate goal is to use a different species’ blight-resistance genes to improve American chestnut trees. Backcross breeding is explained by US Forest Service research ecologist Leila Pinchot, specializing in returning chestnut trees to forests.
“We want a tree that looks and acts like an American,” she explains. Therefore this is an “attempt to merge the resistance genes from the Chinese chestnut with our Chestnut.”
The tree’s survival is not only dependent on backcrossing. SUNY-ESF professor William Powell, who directs the American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project, has utilized genetic engineering to create a tree that is immune to blight.
He mixed Wheat DNA with the American chestnut DNA. Over three decades, Powell has discovered a gene from wheat capable of fighting the blight fungus. One of the best things about this gene, according to him, is that it serves as an antifungal agent.
The Swiss Join the Gas Cutoff
When the environmental movement started in Europe and the 1970s, much of the attention was directed at getting away from combustion-type fuels and dirty pollution. That led the city of Zurich, like many others, to look for alternative solutions. Natural gas became one of those answers. However, now, some 40 years later, the Swiss capitol is making a reverse step and moving away from natural gas for city power. Instead of being environmentally friendly, the resource is now seen as a problem with climate change.
10 years ago, Zurich’s management started pushing for alternatives to natural gas supply. Homes that installed heating that used other means were encouraged and, where the grid was significantly changed, Zurich started shutting off those sections permanently for any new natural gas plumbing and flow.
Renewable energy sources have become the priority, such as solar power, as the Swiss continue their march away from anything having to do with fossil fuels. That includes capturing heat from processes that otherwise would not have been thought of before. For example, waste incinerators generate significant heat that can be captured, piped and delivered to homes in the nearby area without harm or heat loss. Instead of just venting that heat into the open air, it’s sent to neighborhoods to heat homes instead, with plenty of filtering, of course.
The expected cessation of natural gas flow for Zurich, in all practical form, is expected to occur in 2024, which is now just around the corner. Interestingly, the events in Eastern Europe and Ukraine have only added impetus to the move, to further cut back on any support of Russia’s commodities as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. What might have had resistance before has gained full bore support now socially and politically as the Swiss in general want to divest themselves of anything Russia in response. Multiple protests have already occurred demanding the same. However, it’s a tall challenge; at least 47 percent of Switzerland’s natural gas is imported, and the source is Russia. Zurich’s main natural gas provider, Energie 360, has been swamped with questions about how to switch off natural gas and try alternatives. When asked why, customers have repeatedly pointed to the events in Ukraine as the primary cause of action.
For Zurich’s management, the current political sentiment works in their favor of completing the strategy laid out a decade ago. The added social support has helped with the rollout to apply different alternatives to heating, as well as doing away with natural gas altogether. And that makes the 2024 target very reasonable and doable as a result.
Former Homeless Victim of Modern Slavery Nabs Excellent Job
Will was a victim of contemporary slavery for many years until he was able to get a job. However, he now has a job and a place to live thanks to a partnership with a charity in Birmingham.
The now 38-year-old Polish immigrant first arrived in Birmingham from the city’s suburbs 17 years ago. Using his fluency in English, he hoped to find work in a country with more chances than his current one. After landing a job at a construction company, he was able to find a place to reside.
His sister died in an accident and his housemate refused to pay his portion of the rent, which led to him being despondent and being kicked out of the house.
As a result, he ended up on the streets, staying nights at the Digbeth Coach Station as well as days at the libraries. Finally, he learned about Sifa Fireside, a non-profit organization that assists those who are homeless or in need of rebuilding their lives. After starting to sell Big Issue, he was able to stay off the roads for seven years with the help of charity and other employment.
He then found work inside a warehouse, where he rose through the ranks to become a team captain. When two of his so-called friends started looting from the workplace, Will lost his job. He wasn’t able to disprove his involvement.
How the Downturn Happened
With some time to heal from his “moderate” despair, he obtained factory work in Walsall as well as made friends with a young married couple.
Due to social housing problems or something, they kept asking if I could loan them some funds. I had no problem with that. “As a token of appreciation, they provided a sumptuous supper for my enjoyment. That’s all there is to say about the good news.
My money and identification were stolen and I was forced to work for roughly two years after they poisoned me.”
Will claimed that he was forced to run errands or perform translations after his documents were confiscated and his meals rationed.
A few times, Will claims, he tried to run away, only to be caught and injured, leaving him feeling helpless. His library card was the only item he was permitted to keep. He stayed in bed all day reading books since he didn’t want to bother his parents.
An allowance of 2 loaves of bread, 2 soft kinds of cheese, and one lunch meat pack was given to him for a week. He was able to get goodies only with the help of occasional stray coins.
Will explained that even if they didn’t go shopping with him, they had several friends in the town center that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to leave if they didn’t want to.
He said the couple drank heavily, which helped him get out of the house one night while they were drunk. He trudged from Walsall’s side.
Aside from serving as a drop-in center with hot food, showers, and other support services, Sifa’s employees strive to place their customers in jobs.
Sifa is putting out a program to entice business partners to join the effort. The Building Employability initiative consists of the following:
- Finding employment and educational possibilities
- Assisting employees in spotting and reporting indications of homelessness
- Contributing to the funding of initiatives and organizations
Making a New Start
When Will returned, he started to sell the Big Issue as well as volunteer at Sifa again. He claimed he had not requested any action from Sifa other than bringing up numerous benefits concerns with Sifa or Job Centre officials.
The privilege of working at Birmingham’s Urban Emporiums came to him through Sifa, who was living in a tent in Aston. The charity lent him a suit for the interview.
He was hired as a pot washer for 15 hours a week. Now, after five years with the company, he is in full control of the kitchen at its Jewellery Quarter location.
Funny-Looking Bat Returns to Rwanda
Some things in nature are majestic. However, the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat will never qualify in that regard. In fact, it is probably one of the oddest looking creatures, and it became extremely famous for how goofy it looked. Unfortunately, as recognizable as the flying mammal was, it also disappeared for decades. Many experts and biologists thought it had been fully extinct. However, while working on other species’ protection, a research team in Rwanda confirmed that not only is the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat still alive, it’s also as odd-looking as ever.
A Startling Rediscovery
Located in the Rwanda Nyungwe National Park, the rediscovery of the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat made 10-day expedition a huge success for the researchers involved. This wasn’t a walk in the park. Deep in the African jungle, life was downright miserable for the field world. Humid, wild, uneven and steep land to work through, and unending tropical rain was pushing the tempers of everyone involved. However, knowing bats work best at night when the sun is down, the team caught their prize before the crack of dawn at 4 a.m. In the folds of the trap net, flapping erratically was an odd creation of immensely comical dimensions. It was a bat thought gone and disappeared from the world at least four decades prior.
Working Under Pressure in the Jungle
The chief researcher of the group was ecstatic about the find. The facial details of the bat captured was flat out clownish, out of proportion, and grotesque, if not at first funny-looking to notice. And that was clearly the defining feature of a bat that otherwise couldn’t be found by prior trips and is only referenced in biology books from the past. At first, the team was in shock; did they really find an extremely rare bat? They worked over their field manuals quickly to confirm while the bat was still being pulled from the trap net.
The Grand Prize Confirmed
Unfortunately, there is very little time in the field to do the confirmation work. Typically, bats and birds stress tremendously when caught in netting. So, they have to be freed quickly before they suffer serious reactions to the trauma. As a result, a mad scramble took place trying to determine what exactly was captured in the dark. With a timer running down and bright field lights jumbling to give enough illumination to the details, the team confirmed they did indeed have the grand prize. It was a live, healthy and adult Hill’s Horseshoe Bat.
Of course, photographs and video were taken as much as possible. The opportunity couldn’t be passed up. And, fortunately, based on the rapid work and how much information was gathered, the Hill’s Horseshoe Bat once again came “back to life” in terms of biological research.
Six Former Coal Mines to Offer Solar Energy and Jobs to Southwest Virginia Residents
Hundreds of residents in the southern region of Virginia will not only have cleaner air soon and will be able to help in its provision. As part of a campaign by the Nature Conservancy, several uninhabited coal plants in the southwest region of the state are now being converted into solar energy systems.
A comparable site might serve as a model for other states, according to TNC. In the Appalachian Mountains, an environmental group has acquired over a quarter-million acres of woodland to protect the area’s biodiversity.
As of 2010, mining activities have leveled vast swaths of land along current power lines, which TNC aims to exploit by collaborating with Dominion Energy as well as Sun Tribe to provide renewable energy jobs to predominantly remote and Republican regions.
According to Lou Wallace, whose family has depended on coal for decades and who now serves as chairman of the Russell County Board of Supervisors, “We’re quite happy to be an energy-producing town.” Rethinking how we generate energy is being aided by this. In other words, we can still claim to be keeping the lights on in some capacity.
The Cumberland Woodland Project, a 253,000-acre tract of forestry in the central Appalachian Mountains, was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 2019. In the mountain range, which stretches from Alabama to Canada, the group’s activities are concentrated in a few areas.
As the Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley program director, Brad Kreps, explains, “We’ve recognized the Appalachians as among the most essential areas on Earth for anyone to pursue preservation.” He is spearheading the solar projects. It’s like comparing the Appalachian Mountains to the Amazon rainforest, the untamed territories of Kenya, or Borneo’s jungles.
Several abandoned mines dot the Cumberland Forest, which is located in the heart of Virginia’s coal country. For example, Dominion Energy as well as Sun Tribe Energy believe that because of their proximity to transmission lines and large flat regions that are rarely found in mountain areas, the mining sites are ideal for solar power generation.
Approximately 100,000 acres have been affected by mining in the coalfield zone, according to Daniel Kestner, also with the Virginia Department of Energy. As opposed to building on prime farmland or communities that don’t want solar in their community, it’s better to install it on mine sites. Additionally, he’s hoping for a boost in local tax revenue and employment.
More than 175,000 jobs in the coal mining industry would be lost by 2020, as per an article by the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, which was released recently. Solar can’t take the role of stable, long-term employment. The building will be the primary source of employment.
It is Lou Wallace, the Russell County Board of Supervisors chair and advocate for the economic diversification of coal-producing counties in Virginia. She has been marketing the grandeur of the area’s mountains and rivers as a tourist destination and a source of relaxation. Generations of her family were raised on coal.
We are pleased to be an energy-producing town,” she answered when questioned about the new solar plants being erected in decommissioned coal mines. Rethinking the way we generate our energy is being aided by this.” In other words, we can still claim to be keeping the lights on in some capacity.
Trying a New-Old Approach to Pest Removal in Vineyards
Sometimes, letting nature do its job tends to be the better path when it comes to solving agricultural problems. While the farming world for decades has relied on pesticides to keep bugs at bay, it has had a harder time with rodents. The mammal pests are far more destructive, wiping out entire swaths or crops with their munching, particularly when a colony gets established near a farm. Add in that element to everything else a winemaker has to worry about for the right harvest balance, and the rodents become enemy number one. However, chemicals create a slew of new problems ranging from soil poisoning to impacts on the plants themselves. So, a natural alternative that is effective is definitely welcome. Cue the researchers.
Graduate science students from Humboldt State University have been busy working on using nature to fight nature. In their approach, rather than using chemicals for pest prevention, the team has been studying the efficacy of owls, well-known flying predators that love to gobble up rodents any chance they get.
Professor Matt Johnson is the leader of the university’s team, a regular in Humboldt’s Department of Wildlife. Based on extensive preparation and study, 300 owl nest boxes are being utilized throughout the Napa wineries to attract and bring a concentration of owls to the area. After the boxes were installed and began to be inhabited, the team began measuring the birds’ impact on the local rodent population, particularly in the areas where the rodenticide chemicals were no longer being used. So far, the research spans the territory of at least 75 different operations in Napa. Based on the local word of mouth and reaction, up to 80 percent of the wineries have jumped on board and confirmed positive results. The extent varies depending on a number of conditions, but given the fact that one nest of owls can easily gobble up more than 1,000 critters in a typical season, as well as more than 3,400 rodents annually, the owls seem to be doing their job.
Interestingly, however, it’s the gophers that are on the endangered list among local rodents. While everyone expected all rodents would be affected, mice are not suffering as much bad luck at the eating end of owls as their larger gopher relatives are doing.
Measurements are also focusing on whether the owls have become so effective that they are reducing reliance on chemicals. However, the jury is out on the matter. Early numbers are showing a large adoption of owls, but 1 out of 5 wineries still use rodenticides. In the meantime, the state government is making it harder to access the products, pumping out new regulations to limit use in mid 2021. Much of that move was to stop chemicals passing on to birds that eat poisoned rodents and then themselves then suffering and dying because of cross-species poisoning.
The final results of the study will be debatable, with pro and con groups on both sides, but for the wineries, the owls are a practical solution that seems to work. And if the next harvest is better as a result, then the owls have earned their keep tenfold.
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