WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Large elm trees once dominated the forests and front yards of New England, but their numbers have dropped substantially in the last 60 years due to the spread of a deadly blight. Now, there is a new effort to bring the elms back.
Along the Connecticut River in West Springfield on Monday, 22News caught up with Chesterfield arborist Jim McSweeney, and ecologist Christian Marks from the Nature Conservancy . The two men are part of an effort to seek-out American elms that have a resistance to Dutch Elm Disease, a deadly condition that killed many of the region's largest trees, starting in the 1950's.
Across western Massachusetts, Connecticut, and eastern New York, Marks and McSweeney have been taking cuttings from healthy elm trees and testing them for resistance. The trees found to be resistant will then be used to help restore the population.
Marks likened their efforts to being a "dating service" for disease-resistant elm trees, especially important considering that it's a trait found in only about 1 in 10,000 trees.
"When we bring them together, they can have offspring that will be resistant or even more resistant, and spread, and restore the population to what it once was," he said.
In addition to being an iconic symbol of New England (the American Elm is the Massachusetts state tree), elm trees are also particularly important for flood control and providing habitat for birds.