Legal Setback Will Not Deter Action to Stop Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

For Immediate Release

STOP GE Trees Campaign

Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance: +1.828.242.3596
Neil Carman, Sierra Club: +1.512.663.9594
Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, STOP GE Trees Campaign +1.802.578.0477

Legal Setback Will Not Deter Action to Stop Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

Court Rules Secret Genetically Engineered Tree Test Plots Do Not Need Environmental Oversight

MIAMI - On October 7, 2011, the 11th Circuit U.S. District Court for Southern Florida ruled that the planting of more than a quarter of a million genetically engineered (GE) non-native eucalyptus trees can proceed in secret test plots across seven southern states. [1] The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed against the USDA, which approved the test plots. The suit to stop the dangerous GE tree test plots from moving forward was filed on July 1st, 2010 by six organizations:  Center for Biological Diversity,  Center for Food Safety, Dogwood Alliance, Global Justice Ecology Project, the  International Center for Technology Assessment  and Sierra Club.


While the October 7th court ruling approved the test plots, it left the door open for future challenges to the large-scale commercial planting of these trees.

"We are not at all discouraged," stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club. "Although it denied our claims, the court noted that the agency and industry will have to address the potential harmful impacts of GE eucalyptus trees in any proposed commercial approval. We will remain vigilant andfully involved in this process to ensure these issues are addressed and prevented."   

The ruling favors ArborGen, the corporation that designed the GE trees and hopes to sell half a billion per year for planting in the U.S. South. [2] The court's decision was made despite serious concerns raised, not only by environmental groups, but by government agencies including the Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council, the Georgia Department of Wildlife, and the US Forest Service. These concerns include documented impacts of eucalyptus trees, such as water depletion, displacement of wildlife, invasiveness and firestorms. These concerns are magnified because these GE eucalyptus trees have been engineered to tolerate cold so they can grow and spread outside of their natural geographic boundaries.

Because of these serious concerns, during the USDA comment period on the test plots, nearly 20,000 people demanded the GE eucalyptus trees be rejected.

In their comments to the USDA recommending the GE eucalyptus test plots be rejected, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division explained the wildfire concerns, "The leaves of eucalyptus trees produce large amounts of volatile oils [allowing] accumulation of highly combustible fuels. Consequently, dense eucalyptus plantations are subject to catastrophic firestorms. Once ignited, these fires would grow vigorously, potentially spreading to other properties." [3] Georgia, one of the states targeted for these plantations, is currently experiencing exceptional drought.

"ArborGen's GE eucalyptus trees are an ecological nightmare," added Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project, which has offices in Vermont and Oakland. "Eucalyptus are so invasive, they've been likened to Kudzu, the non-native vine that has devoured parts of the U.S. South. [4] But eucalyptus are worse-they are flammable kudzu. Growing them in plantations across millions of acres from Texas to South Carolina, which ArborGen's parent companies International Paper and MeadWestvaco hope to do, could lead to horrific wildfires. The last thing drought-prone Texas needs is more fuel for wildfires."

October 20th was the twenty-year anniversary of the Oakland, California firestorms, which burned 1,520 acres and destroyed more than 3,800 dwellings. The economic loss was estimated at $1.5 billion. The presence of highly combustible eucalyptus trees contributed greatly to this catastrophic firestorm. [5]


The U.S. Forest Service also submitted comments to the USDA noting that GE eucalyptus will require twice as much water as other forests in the South, "whether it is planted or invades native forests." Stream flow, the Forest Service added, "would be about 20% lower in eucalyptus plantations than pine plantations." [6] Eucalyptus plantations would worsen the droughts plaguing the U.S. South.

The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division added, "Eucalyptus plantations will be extremely inhospitable environments for native flora and fauna." "...we have serious concerns about potential impacts on hydrology, soil chemistry, native biodiversity, and ecosystem functions," the state agency said.

The Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council also recommended rejecting ArborGen's request for GE eucalyptus test plots based on their potential for invasiveness. "Invasive plants negatively affect our native species..." E. grandis, one of the parent species of this GE hybrid, is a known invasive in Florida, South Africa, New Zealand and Ecuador. The Florida agency further warned that the cold tolerance trait of the GE eucalyptus increases the threat of invasiveness. "If sterility of the [GE eucalyptus] is not permanent and 100% ... the [GE eucalyptus] itself may acquire the ability to become invasive across the southeastern U.S." [7]

"It's a sad state of affairs that the courts ignored the communities, organizations and landowners of the South who have serious concerns about the impacts of these trees and want to see them stopped," said Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director at Dogwood Alliance, a plaintiff in the case. "The decision opens the door for ArborGen's Frankentrees to release seeds into the wild. Neighboring landowners are not even aware of the threat, since there's no requirement that the company disclose the locations of the GE eucalyptus trees. This is an outrageous failure of oversight."


[1] The seven southern states include Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

[2] Rubicon's 2009 annual report to shareholders.  Email to receive the PDF of Rubicon's shareholders report.  The reference to ArborGen producing half a billion GE eucalyptus annually for biofuel production in the US South can be found on page 8.


[4] A Charlotte Observer Editorial called GE eucalyptus trees, "The kudzu of the 2010s."


[6] Comments submitted by the U.S. Forest Service expressing concerns about the impacts on water from the GE eucalyptus planting can be found in the Environmental Assessment, Appendix III



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