On Thursday, February 1st, at 6:30 p.m., members of the Blacksburg community along with university faculty and students gathered to watch TACF's captivating documentary, Clear Day Thunder: Rescuing the American Chestnut.

Dr. Vasiliy Lakoba
Dr. Vasiliy Lakoba, an alumnus of the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP

Adding a nostalgic touch to the event, Dr. Vasiliy Lakoba, an alumnus of the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP, was a panel member, sharing his insights and expertise in his capacity as the Director of Research for TACF.

Embarking on his Ph.D. journey at Virginia Tech in 2017, Lakoba was a student in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and a member of Jacob Barney’s Invasive Plant Ecology Lab. His research focused on Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), exploring its belowground ecology and its interaction with land management practices and policies. After graduating in 2021, Lakoba joined TACF, as the Director of Research at Meadowview Research Farms.

Panel Discussion
A panel discussion followed the film, featuring members of TACF’s science team (from left to right): Vasiliy Lakoba, director of research, Sara Fitzsimmons, chief conservation officer, Cassie Stark, Mid-Atlantic regional science coordinator, and John Scrivani, restoration committee chair and Virginia chapter president.

In his role as Director of Research, Lakoba works with science staff across TACF, the Science and Technology Committee, and external academic collaborators to design and implement breeding studies, orchard and forestry trials, and other basic and applied research.

The documentary sheds light on the plight of the American chestnut tree, the iconic chestnut, once one of the dominant species in the forests of Appalachia, faced devastation in the early 1900s due to the introduction of the chestnut blight. This deadly blight, accidentally imported from Asia, decimated the American chestnut population, rendering it functionally extinct for over a century.

Using a combination of traditional breeding, biotechnology, and biocontrol -- TACF is working to restore a disease-resistant and genetically diverse population of American chestnuts in the eastern forests of the United States. 

Community members asking questions
The documentary weaves the tale of the chestnut's decline, the individuals committed to reversing its fate, and the role of scientific innovation in this ecological revival. The inspiring narrative of the film offered compelling material for questions from members of the community.

The "Clear Day Thunder" screening and panel discussion not only highlighted the challenges faced by the American chestnut but also showcased the resilience and determination of a community dedicated to restoring a majestic tree to its place in the eastern forests of the United States.