Genetically Engineered Trees for Bioenergy Pose Major Threat to Southern Forests
In response to industry plans to develop eucalyptus plantations across the US South, environmental groups are raising serious concerns about the impacts of eucalyptus plantations on forests, rural communities, wildlife and the climate, especially if those trees are genetically engineered.
A recent boom in the southern biomass industry adds to the concern that industry plans to use GE eucalyptus, pine and poplar in biomass incinerators and cellulosic biofuel plants across the region. European energy companies RWE, Drax and E.On are currently importing or have plans to import wood pellets produced in the southern US, a trend which could increase the demand for plantations of fast-growing, genetically engineered tree species. Fortunately, GE trees are not yet approved for large-scale commercial plantations.
EcoGen, LLC recently announced plans to develop eucalyptus plantations in southern Florida to feed biomass facilities. Additionally, South Carolina-based ArborGen has requested USDA permission to sell billions of genetically engineered cold tolerant eucalyptus trees for plantations in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The USDA recently announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and solicit public comment for ArborGen’s request.
Eucalyptus trees are documented as an invasive pest in California and Florida. But because they cannot grow in sub-freezing temperatures, they have been engineered to be cold-tolerant, enabling them to survive temperatures below 20°f – vastly expanding their range.
Besides being highly invasive–the Charlotte Observer called them “the kudzu of the 2010s”–eucalyptus plantations deplete ground water and can even worsen droughts. The US Forest Service opposes GE eucalyptus plantations due to their impact on ground water and streams.
“GE eucalyptus trees are a disaster waiting to happen–it is critical the USDA reject them,” said Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director Anne Petermann. “In addition to being invasive, eucalyptus trees are explosively flammable. In a region that has been plagued by droughts in recent years, developing plantations of an invasive, water-greedy and fire-prone tree is foolhardy and dangerous.”
Petermann coordinates the international STOP GE Trees Campaign, which has collected thousands of signatures supporting a ban on GE trees due to their potentially catastrophic impacts on communities and forests.
“The forests of the Southeast are some of the most biodiverse in the world,” said Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director of Asheville, NC-based Dogwood Alliance. “They contain species found nowhere else. Species like the Louisiana Black Bear, the golden-cheeked warbler and the red-cockaded woodpecker are already endangered. Eucalyptus plantations could push these and other species over the edge,” he added.
The Georgia Department of Wildlife opposes GE eucalyptus trees due to these impacts.
The STOP GE Trees Campaign is planning events around the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference this May in Asheville, NC, where GE tree industry representatives and researchers will gather to discuss the use of GE trees and their deployment across the US South.
You can sign the petition calling on the USDA to ban GE trees at http://globaljusticeecology.org/petition.php
For more information on the dangers of GE trees, visit http://nogetrees.org
To get involved with the campaign, or to find out more about the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference and protests, contact Will Bennington at will [at] globaljusticeecology [dot] org