Invasive GE Eucalyptus Threatens Southern Forests & Water

For Immediate Release

Environmental Groups
Contact: 

Dr. Neil Carman, Plant Scientist, Sierra Club +1.512.663.9594
Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project +1.802.578.0477
Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director, Dogwood Alliance +1.828.242.3596
George Kimbrell, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Food Safety +1.571.527.8618

Invasive GE Eucalyptus Threatens Southern Forests & Water

Groups Force USDA to Re-release Draft Environmental Assessment on Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees for Southern U.S. Forests:

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture re-released their draft
environmental assessment [1] regarding a request by ArborGen, a
subsidiary of timber giants International Paper and MeadWestvaco, to
plant over a quarter of a million genetically engineered eucalyptus
trees in so-called "test plots" across seven southern U.S. states. [2]

"If these invasive GE eucalyptus are planted across the South on this
large of a scale, it is highly likely that fertile seeds will escape
into surrounding forests," said Dr. Neil Carman, a plant scientist with
the Sierra Club.  "This is a major problem since eucalyptus is already
known for its invasiveness.  Once they escape into the forests, there
is no way to call them back.  It would be an ecological nightmare for
southern forests."

The environmental assessment was re-released by the USDA after groups
concerned about the environmental impacts of transgenic eucalyptus
trees pointed out that the assessment was missing key hydrological
studies conducted by the U.S. Forest Service that directly refute the
conclusions of the USDA's draft environmental assessment which
recommend approving ArborGen's request.  The USFS studies point out
that eucalyptus trees have heavy water requirements and can seriously
impact ground and surface water reserves. [3]

The USDA is seeking public comments on their draft environmental assessment through February 18th, 2010. [4]

"In countries that are already suffering the impacts of large-scale
eucalyptus plantations--like Brazil, Chile and South Africa--people
have organized massive campaigns against them," stated Anne Petermann,
Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and North American
representative of the Global Forest Coalition.  "This is because
eucalyptus plantations have devastated forests and communities.  In
Brazil, the Mata Atlantica forest has been all but wiped out by
eucalyptus plantations.  In Chile, communities living near eucalyptus
plantations have lost their access to fresh water."

Other new information in the assessment reveals that some of the
supposedly infertile engineered eucalyptus trees in existing field
trials produced fertile seeds.  Eucalyptus is a non-native tree and
numerous species of eucalyptus are already considered invasive.  This
new transgenic (or GMO) eucalyptus has been engineered to tolerate
colder temperatures giving it the potential for invading forest
ecosystems throughout the South.

"I had hoped that the disaster of kudzu would have taught us the
consequences of releasing invasive species into the environment,"
agreed Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director for the Dogwood Alliance.
 "Instead, ArborGen wants to release invasive GE eucalyptus trees.
 Unlike kudzu, however, these trees are not only invasive, they are
also highly flammable and use huge quantities of fresh water.
 California is already spending millions to eradicate invasive and
flammable eucalyptus trees.  We do not want these invasive trees to be
mass-planted in the South."

The STOP GE Trees Campaign [5] is working with the Center for Food
Safety on plans to stop ArborGen's proposal to release hundreds of
thousands of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees across the U.S.
South.  "This is a very slippery slope," warns George Kimbrell, an
attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "Allowing the release of these
GE eucalyptus trees will set a legal precedent that could allow the
release of genetically engineered poplars or pines--which have wild
relatives across the continent.  The commercial release of engineered
versions of native trees would lead to the contamination of forests
with engineered pollen.  Once this occurs there is absolutely nothing
that can be done to stop the further contamination of more forests.  We
have to stop the release of GE trees before this contamination occurs."

The public is encouraged to submit comments to the USDA regarding the
ArborGen proposal to release 260,000 genetically engineered cold
tolerant eucalyptus trees across seven southern states.  For details on
this, please visit: http://www.globaljusticeecology.org/stopgetrees.php?tabs=0

[1] To download the USDA's December 17, 2009 revised draft environmental assessment, go to: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/08_014101rm_ea2.pdf

[2] The seven states targeted for ArborGen's GE eucalyptus
deployment are South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi,
Louisiana and Texas.

[3] The summary findings of the USFS with regard to the impacts of
eucalyptus plantations on water resources can be found on page 57 of
the new USDA draft environmental assessment.  These findings include
the fact that the water usage by eucalyptus plantations is at least
double the water usage by other forest types, and that afforestation to
eucalyptus plantations will reduce stream flow, lower the water table
and affect groundwater recharge.

[4] Comments to the USDA can be submitted at: http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#submitComment?R=09000064809c344a

[5] Global Justice Ecology Project coordinates the STOP
Genetically Engineered Trees Campaign.  The Sierra Club and Dogwood
Alliance are part of the Steering Committee for the Campaign.  For more
information on the campaign, go to: http://www.nogetrees.org.

###

Share This Article

More in: