Douglas J. Buege, Ph.D.


spacerEnvironmental Philosopher




It took Mother Nature 85 million years to develop the American chestnut; it took Americans less than 50 years to nearly wipe it out!

If A Tree Falls: Rediscovering the Great American Chestnut

Available now!


Listen to Larry Meiller interview Douglas on Wisconsin Public Radio

In the summer of 2004, Douglas Buege set out to determine the fate of one of the earliest and most beloved victims of the 20th Century, the fabled American chestnut.  Eastern states, particularly Pennsylvania and New York, fought to save their precious native chestnuts with only minor short-term success following the introduction of a disease first discovered in 1904.  After the deadly fungal blight massacred more than 3 billion chestnuts throughout Appalachia and New England, decades passed before the American Chestnut Foundation and the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation developed feasible plans to rescue the species.  Buege spent time at Virginia’s Meadowview Research Farm with plant pathologist Fred Hebard of the ACF before meeting up with Gary and Lucille Griffin of the ACCF.  John Elkins showed him the finer points of grafting chestnut in West Virginia.  Back home in Wisconsin, he roamed the largest remaining stand of American chestnut outside West Salem, near LaCrosse, and learned the ropes of agroforestry and permaculture under the tutelage of Mark Shepard.  Badgersett nut breeder Philip Rutter showed Buege the errors forest pathologists make that lead to rabid deforestation in the name of saving the woods.  Michigan agriculture professor Dennis Fulbright and Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station’s Sandra Anagnostakis round out the cast of intriguing players detailed in If a Tree Falls: Rediscovering the Great American Chestnut, Buege’s ode to the mighty chestnut and the disparate means of rescuing the tree (which might not even need rescue!).

For anyone interested in saving endangered species and recovering damaged ecosystems, If a Tree Falls offers a critical, impassioned tale of warning.  Beginning with a historical analysis of early responses to chestnut blight, particularly Governor Tener’s convening of the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission in 1911, Buege contrasts European and American approaches to fighting the blight.  French plant breeder Jean Grente employed his genius to rescue French chestnuts.  His techniques have yet to help American researchers perform similar miracles in the US.  Historical analysis leads to examination of contemporary breeding programs.  The foibles of human pursuits arise: personalities clash, toes are stepped on, animosities fester.  Yet, somehow, the American chestnut persists, humbly hiding in the backwoods of Virginia as if waiting for the plague of humans to vanish before making its resurgence.

About Douglas Buege

Since earning a doctorate in Philosophy in 1993, I've written chapters for books, articles in both academic and popular press, and published the chestnut book.  You can peruse some of the resulting articles here.  If you're clever, you might even locate a web-based resume there as well.

To read an excerpt from If a Tree Falls, click here.

To email the author, click here.