“If it didn’t come out of the woods, it’s probably not American.”
This is a quote often repeated by Herbert F. Darling, Jr. when he speaks about the American Chestnut tree, a tree whose numbers were decimated by a fungus-based blight in the early 1900s. Once numbering in the billions, only a few hundred remain today.
Herb did not set out to be an arborist, but he has a life-long passion for outdoor conservation. In 1989, when a hunter discovered an American Chestnut tree on his land in Zoar Valley, Herb found himself in a unique position to help restore this magnificent species.
After learning from the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) that this newly discovered tree, called Zoar 1, would not survive, he erected an 80 foot high scaffold from his construction company in order to pollinate the tree and gather the burs (nuts). This enabled him to preserve the species while he and others searched for ways to save the once mighty American Chestnut. From 1989 to 1990 Herb operated the New York Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF-NY) out of the Buffalo Museum of Science. He worked closely with Stanley and Arlene Wirsig, who co-founded the New York Chapter with him and together they approached ESF SUNY College of Environmental Forestry in Syracuse, NY. The agreement led to collaboration between Dr. Richard Zander, who is responsible for distinguishing the genome of the American Chestnut from that of other varieties of chestnut trees, and Herb, who fought for and gained permission from TACF to use the transgenic method of growing blight-resistant trees. To date, TACF-NY is the only chapter using this method, which has proved to be successful. The next step in this 100-year restoration project is to gain approval from the FDA, USDA and the EPA to distribute the saplings for planting.
Herb created and sketched several characters that can be used to educate children about the demise of the American Chestnut. His favorite ones are the chestnut-headed Charlie Chestnut and Ginny Gene, who personifies the wheat gene that helps chestnut trees fight off the effects of the fungus. Buster Blight is a ravenous character, eager to destroy Charlie’s Grandma, a full-grown vulnerable tree. Students can be introduced to these and other educational characters in the DVD titled – “Biological Powerhouse Life & Times of Charlie Chestnut.”
As for Zoar 1, we must report that, sadly, it died only a few years after being discovered. Its legacy continues, however, not only in the saplings born of its nuts, but in three special rocking horses Herb had carved from its wood for his grandchildren to enjoy and remember his unwavering dedication. Herbert F. Darling, Jr. is the recipient of many awards and is most proud of one given by The National American Chestnut Foundation, recognizing his leadership as chairman of the national board of directors and his outstanding efforts toward restoring the majestic American Chestnut tree.
In 2000 Herb was instrumental in founding the Tifft Nature Preserve, which has recently become part of the Buffalo Museum of Science. He was president of TACF-NY from its inception in 1989 until 2015 when he became President Emeritus of the chapter.
Herb is currently on the Board of Directors of The American Chestnut Foundation, which he chaired for six years and was awarded Chairman Emeritus status. In addition, he serves on the Board of the Buffalo Museum of Natural Science which he previously chaired and where he also serves as Chair of the Tifft committee at the Buffalo Museum of Science.