Comment period ending, but controversy over the Ozark chinquapin just beginning?
A few weeks ago, FWS published its notice that it was considering the listing of the Ozark chinquapin. See ESA blawg. The deadline for commentary just expired, but the controversy over the Ozark chinquapin, Castanea pumila var. ozarkensis, may have just begun. Robert Barnes, who regularly works on the protection and restoration of the tree, see OzarkChinquapinFoundation.com, offered his insights to ESA blawg: "There is so much misinformation, outright lies and deliberate exagerations about Castanea Ozarkensis that It would be extremely difficult to catalogue them all. I spend a great deal of my time trying to correct some of the misinformation. It does little good as more is constantly coming online. I greatly appreciate everyone's efforts in saving and preserving endangered species. The Ozark Chinquapin, however, is not endangered." He said.
The Ozark chinquapin has been considered by some taxonomists to be a separate species in the genus, Castanea, and has been named Castanea ozarkensis, but other classifiers have named it Castanea pumila var. ozarkensis --a variety of the Allegheny chinquapin. It is a chinquapin since it produces only one seed per bur, not three as in the American chestnut, but its leaves resemble the American chestnut and it used to attain tree dimensions before the blight. The photo above, from volstate.edu, shows Robert Barnes beside some of his chinquapin seedlings which he uses as rootstocks for scions from superior Ozark chinquapin trees.
Elaborating on his conclusion, Mr. Barnes made four points: "(1) Castanea Ozarkensis is in NO danger of extinction, period. (2) The tree routinely produces seed whether blighted or not. (3) The blight does not kill the Ozark Chinquapin. And, finally, (4) The range of the Ozark Chinquapin is at the present time expanding." In support of these statements, he said that the current range of the species includes Southwest Missouri, Eastern Oklahoma, and Arkansas, with hundreds of thousands of trees. See maps from eFlores.org and volstate.edu. Significantly, Mr. Barnes explained that he has personally been involved with curing chestnut blight in these trees, citing an article from Science Direct by Ping Ding et. al, "Transmission of Cryphonectria hypovirus to protect chestnut trees from chestnut blight disease," Biological Control, Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2007, Pages 9-14. Ultimately, Mr. Barnes viewed the entire dialogue as misleading, drawing parallels to the "WMD and Iraq scenario."
KEITHINKING: Mr. Barnes may be colorful, but he makes a noteworthy point. A tree that is producing fruits, and showing resistance to blight, with prospective treatment techniques, may not rise to the level of likely to become an endangered species -- in danger of extinction -- in the foreseeable future.