The reintroduction of the American chestnut to North American forests is currently facing a “critical step,” according to the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF). The US Department of Agriculture is reviewing an application from SUNY's School of Environmental Science and Forestry to deregulate a genetically engineered chestnut tree, nicknamed Darling 58, that shows promise in resisting the Cryphonectria parasitica fungus, known as chestnut blight. Supporters believe that clearing this bureaucratic hurdle could pave the way for the restoration of the “king of the canopy” and reverse the decline that began 118 years ago when the blight first appeared at the Bronx Zoo.

Such is the latest chapter in a long-running saga that stretches back hundreds, if not millions, of years. In his timely and much-needed book, The American Chestnut, Donald Davis provides anyone interested in the chestnut's restoration with the historical context to understand the stakes involved. Rather than focus...

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