Scientists work to make american elms resistant to Dutch elm diesase

Image 1 of 3

Jim Slavicek, the project leader from the Northern Research Station in Delaware, Ohio, works with Chad Kirschbaum, the Deer River District Ranger, preparing to inoculate American elm trees near Spring Lake, Minn.

Dutch elm disease is usually bad thing for Minnesota's iconic American elm trees, but for researchers in the Chippewa National Forest this week making a few trees sick may mean saving many, many more. 

USDA Forest Service scientists innoculated more than 1,200 trees with Dutch elm between June 13 and 15, hoping to better understand the fungus in an attempt to stop future outbreaks.

The American elm has been scarce since the disease was introduced in the United States sometime in the 1930s, destroying over half of the plant's population in the next few decades, with fewer than 34 million surviving today. Iconic for its place as an urban street tree, researchers have been working in recent years to create resistant strains of the species.

The Forest Service hopes to promote greater genetic diversity in those strains to begin restoration across much of the tree's native range, and this week's inoculation is meant to test the USDA's breeding program in the Chippewa National Forest.