The origin of the Maine Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation grew out of the passion and commitment of Welles Thurber of Belfast. Welles learned about the value and demise of chestnuts while a forestry student in Orono in the late ‘70s. By growing and distributing native chestnut seedlings, and talking and scouting chestnuts wherever he went, Welles became known as “the chestnut guy”. In the early 1980’s Welles met with Dr. Fred Hebard to discuss breeding for resistance strategies. Fred would later go on to a long career with the TACF starting in 1983 leading the national breeding program. In the mid-‘90s, Welles pollinated some native Maine chestnut trees with pollen Fred sent him from TACF’s breeding program. This got some press coverage that caught the attention of Eric Evans in Camden.
Concerned that damage from the “Ice Storm of 1998” would speed the demise of most of the remaining chestnuts, Welles and Eric decided that the best hope for the preservation of the remaining chestnut genes and development of disease resistance for chestnut re-forestation in Maine was in working directly in TACF. Welles and Eric met with TACF Executive Director Marshal Case, gathered a steering committee and a couple dozen supporting members, and formed the Maine Chapter of TACF in 1999. Maine’s was the fifth state chapter established, and now there are chapters in all of the states covering the original range of chestnuts from New England south to Georgia.
We have published a chapter newsletter – The TREE URCHIN – at least once per year since our beginning in 1999. Please visit our Newsletter Archives to see our origins documented in the first three URCHINs, and recent issues for background information on current developments in our breeding program.
Our Maine Chapter of TACF is one of about a dozen state chapters conducting a back-cross breeding program coordinated by TACF’s research farms in Meadowview, VA, using local American chestnuts as the mother trees to ensure that blight-resistant trees coming out of our breeding will be most ideally adapted to our Maine growing conditions. We have back-cross breeding and seed orchards in 14 towns from Lovell to Bradley. Learn more on our Breeding Plan page.