|American Elm Restoration|
The American elm tree was once widely distributed throughout the United States, including Fontenelle Forest. Unfortunately, this grand tree began to decline during the 1930's when Dutch Elm Disease (DED) was first introduced in the United States. This fatal fungus attacks American elms and is often spread by Elm Bark beetles, which feed on healthy trees. By 1976, only 34 million of the estimated 77 million elms in America's urban locations remained – and far fewer are present today.
Over the past several decades, scientists have worked to identify American elm tree strains with high levels of tolerance to DED. Although a totally resistant tree has not been found, a few have exhibited good levels of tolerance. The Valley Forge American Elm, which retains the classic look of the American elm, is widely held to be the best of the disease-resistant cultivars.
Through the American Elm Restoration Initiative, Fontenelle Forest (FF) has planted 75 Valley Forge American Elms in Fontenelle Forest and 50 in Neale Woods. Although this is a small number of trees, they are widely dispersed and sited near existing forest elms. In theory, the disease-tolerant trees will cross pollinate with existing elms, resulting in a partially disease-resistant hybrid. When the hybrids mature and re-cross with one another, some will have more resistance and more adaptability for survival. Those with less resistance will be eliminated by natural selection and survivors of each succeeding generation will be more resistant to DED. Eventually, a viable elm population will be restored.
FF staff worked with Dr. Scott Schlarbaum, Professor of Forest Genetics at the University of Tennessee, to select proper planting sites for the new elm saplings. As with many of our conservation initiatives, this project is labor-intensive. Hundreds of hours have been devoted to manually preparing the sites, planting the saplings and nurturing the new trees. Each tree is mulched, supported by rebar and surrounded by a wire enclosure to protect it from deer. Continuing maintenance includes monitoring, weed control and watering on a regular basis.
In the near future, FF hopes to harvest seeds from the new trees, which will eventually be added to this ongoing effort.
Plan your escape this summer with Nebraska Passport. Get a stamp at Fontenelle Forest.