Maine’s  Central Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District  (SWCD) is working with Universities of Maine in Presque Isle and Fort Kent to combat neonectria and repopulate forest beech trees.

“Beech trees play such an important part in Maine’s forest ecosystem,”  Central Aroostook SWCD Executive Director Randy Martin said . “Aside from the fact that it is a very important hardwood species, the amount of food that beech trees produce for wildlife is critical to Maine.”

Martin and university students are cloning neonectria-resistant beech trees using explants from mature American beeches that show no signs of the deadly fungus, despite growing among disease-infected trees. Tissue collections are cultured and grown in a lab. When the clones reach between 12 and 15 inches tall, they will be planted in trials and monitored for up to 15 years to determine neonectria resistance. Infected regrowth will grow alongside the cultured plants to mimic natural forest conditions.

Seven Islands Land Management Company will provide the steep-sloped, shallow soil trial areas for the 60,000 cloned trees, and Fort Kent University will host a trial in its university forest. Central Aroostook SWCD plans to plant the saplings in 2021.