About livingchestnuts

Director of Development for the American Chestnut Foundation. As someone who believes you are never better than when you are serving people, I look forward to telling folks about the amazing staff and volunteers that make up The American Chestnut Foundation as we try to restore this great tree to the American landscape.

A Slightly New, Broader Direction

I’ve really enjoyed doing this blog for the last 18 months.  I have only a few followers (thanks to all 7 of you), but I’m going to keep going because there are still too many stories to tell.  I’m going to broaden this blog to include all the human stories I encounter, not just the chestnut folks.  I am keeping the name “Livingchestnuts” because I think it is symbolic, in a way, of restoration, determination, faith and rising from the ashes.  So stay tuned because I met a guy today who blew my socks off and I want you to hear his story, but in a nutshell since it took him about 4 hours to tell it today and I think he was just getting started.  Watch for Roger’s story, coming soon to a very obscure blog near you.


The Chestnut Army – I’m a Soldier

Today is my last day working for The American Chestnut Foundation.  I am extremely grateful for the chance I was given to work for TACF – I learned a ton and met so many wonderful people. I can’t say enough about TACF.  I also learned that after 20 years of being a wildlife biologist prior to coming to TACF, that’s what I am.  I missed working on wildlife habitat projects and issues, so I am going back to doing that as a consultant.  As such, I am anxious to promote chestnut reintroduction with landowners of all kinds, whether it be establishing pure American chestnut plantings or getting folks involved in the sponsor program.  My hunting club in PA is already well into establishing both pure American chestnut on our 350 acres and we sponsored a TACF event and have some B3F3 trees growing too.  It’s a lot of fun and I can’t wait to work with TACF to get more folks involved.  Thanks to all of you who showed me kindness and support TACF in a variety of ways.  I’ll be around…

Mark Banker

Darn Dogs


Last fall I did a post about my old English setter who died on September 30 of old age and other complications.  Taking his place was a really great young English setter named Abe.  He had the makings of a really special dog.  On June 6th we went out to my hunting camp together to check on the chestnuts I had planted there.  It was our last trip afield – he got sick that day of a blood clot in his abdomen and died 3 days later.

The last picture I took of the trees turned out to be the last picture I took of Abe.  By accident, he ended up in the picture above in a classic pose.  He was not quite 18 months old.  No more company on my chestnut checks – I’ll go it alone for a while.

Maine Events

From left, Bryan Burhans, Bucky Owens and TACF Board Chairman Glen Rea enjoy a chat at the Maine Restoration Event in June.

One of the things you do as a field person for TACF, or most any small conservation non-profit, is cover a lot of ground.  Usually one person handles many states and this is true of TACF.  The great thing about it is, you get to see some really cool places.  On June 14, the Maine Chapter of TACF had their annual Restoration Event.  It was held at a beautiful private home overlooking the Maine coastline, which I had never laid eyes on.  Add it to my list of places I want a summer home. The weather was absolutely spectacular, which certainly enhanced my desire to move there.  After listening to enough of us relative southerners oohing and ahing, the natives reminded us of the “w” word – winter.  Earlier in the day we checked out a large breeding orchard being shepherded by local volunteer Larry Totten and other volunteers.  When the sun went down, the bugs came out and the party ended, but it was a great event and raised valuable funds for Maine’s projects.  Congrats.

Making Room for the Chestnut – Part II

Jay Engle of MeadWestvaco checks out a chestnut thriving in a naturally regenerating forest in southeastern WV.

In a previous post I talked about the vast mature forests of the Appalachians and wondered how chestnut would find their way with so much shade.  After half a day on  MeadWestvaco lands in West Virginia, I have at least part of the answer.  MeadWestvaco manages a large forested landscape with nearly every stage of forest growth represented.  Of particular value are the new clearcuts, which make perfect nurseries for young chestnut.  Jay Engle, a forester for MWV, and his colleagues are stewarding a planting project in cooperation with WV-TACF and TACF staff.  A variety of chestnuts has been planted in a new clearcut.  So far, the results are encouraging (see picture).  This is a dynamic landscape where chestnut could be established in full sunlight in forested settings (a young forest is still a forest) at intervals for decades.  More of such landscapes are needed.  Our partnership with MeadWestvaco is greatly appreciated and extremely valuable.

Display Booths Great for Meet and Greet

New Jersey TACF volunteer Manuel Ovando and Luke Banker at the TACF booth at Duke Farms in northern NJ.

Throughout the year, TACF volunteers spend hundreds of hours in booths at various types of shows talking to people about all things chestnut.  One would think that these shows would be great places to sell memberships, but they aren’t.  They ARE great places to talk.  Just last weekend, I spent 7 hours in a booth at the Grand Opening of Duke Farms near Hillsborough, NJ.  I don’t think 5 minutes went by that we weren’t explaining who we are and what we do to someone, or trying to figure out whether a suspicious tree in someone’s yard is an American chestnut or not (usually not).  Thankfully, a TACF volunteer from New Jersey and my son Luke were more than happy to do most of the talking.  It was like most time I’ve spent in a TACF booth – constant interest and constant information exchange.  Before I got home, I had two e-mails (on Sunday) asking for more information about TACF.  Someone even called me on Sunday morning!  So, we are grateful to our volunteers who put in so many hours at these shows and expos telling the chestnut story.  They really are great opportunities.

First Conservation Innovation Grant Planting

TACF Regional Science Coordinator Sara Fitzsimmons explains proper planting techniques to volunteers at the first CIG project in eastern PA.

The first planting supported by TACF’s Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) got underway the last week in April in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (north of Harrisburg).  Led by TACF Forester Michael French and Regional Science Coordinator Sara Fitzsimmons, dozens of volunteers once again did the heavy lifting.  There will be 12, 30-acre plantings in 5 states during the 3-year life of the CIG.  All of the plantings will occur on previously reclaimed minelands that are currently grass or on minelands being actively reclaimed.  The trees used in planting the 30 acres include hundreds of potentially blight-resistant (B3F3) chestnuts and an assortment of quality hardwoods.  The Office of Surface Mining – Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, is a major partner in this effort.  CIG grants are administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.