National Geographic : 1990 Feb
invader, using every means known to science and practical experience," the epidemic had destroyed wild chestnuts in New Jersey, southeastern New York, western Connecticut, and Mas sachusetts. The commission undertook a chestnut firebreak a mile wide. Blight easily leaped the break and raged on. Some chestnut owners heeded self-serving advice from the American Forest Products Com pany, maker of telephone poles, to cut and sell their trees before the blight could kill them. The company's president argued: "Every time a chestnut tree is utilized, not only is it saved but a tree of some other species is also conserved for the future." What natural blight resistance lurked in the vast gene pool of American chestnuts may have gone to carry wires for AT&T. VIL TENDENCIES can cel," wrote poet Rob ert Frost at a time when few fans of the chestnut had high hopes: Will the blight end the chestnut? The farmers ratherguess not. It keeps smoldering at the roots And sending up new shoots Till anotherparasite Shall come to end the blight. Indeed the roots often refused to die. Blight would destroy an entire stand. Then sprouts that had been long dormant would race skyward. Within a decade, blight would infect these new stems. Reproduction declined dramatically, and, with it, the chance to evolve. Frost's vindication came in Europe. Despite quarantine efforts, blight appeared in Italy in 1938 and ravaged ancient orchards and forests. Attempting to isolate spores with fire-retarding foam, forest ranger Terryl Buchman sprays blighted trees before burying them (left). He hopes to protect blight-free trees in this stand in West Salem, Wisconsin. The blight does not harm roots. Fred Hebard, superin tendent of the American Chestnut Foundationfarm, examines the serrated leaves of sprouts growing from a mature stump.