Frankenforests

From the Associated Press, via Yahoo!:

By MITCH STACY, Associated Press Writer Mitch Stacy, Associated Press Writer Mon Jun 7, 5:40 am ET

TAMPA, Fla. – The commercial paper industry’s plans to plant forests of genetically altered eucalyptus trees in seven Southern states have generated more cries from critics worried that such a large introduction of a bioengineered nonnative plant could throw natural ecosystems out of whack.

ArborGen, a biotechnology venture affiliated with three large paper companies, got U.S. Department of Agriculture approval last month for field trials involving as many as 250,000 trees planted at 29 sites during the next few years. Much smaller lots of the genetically altered trees have been growing in some of the states for years.

I don’t think I like the idea of designer trees. I don’t think this is quite as innocuous as say, hybridizing roses.

The company says plantations of hearty, faster-growing eucalyptus could produce more timber in a smaller area and allow conservation of natural forests.

I think he means “hardy.” But sloppy journalistic practices aside, unsurprisingly, the Sierra Club is weighing in with a decidedly unfavorable opinion:

But critics say that despite the USDA’s assurance that the trees pose no environmental threat, not enough is known about their effect on natural surroundings.

“We have many reservations about it,” said Neil J. Carman, a biologist who serves on the Sierra Club’s genetic engineering committee. “We don’t think the scientific evidence is in yet that says this is a good idea.”

Anne Petermann, executive director of the activist group Global Justice Ecology Project, said eucalyptus trees are invasive, require vast amounts of water that could reduce groundwater levels, and increase the wildfire risk because they are so flammable.

“This is quite a dangerous tree to be mass planting,” Petermann said.

I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area back in 1991 when the Oakland hills went up in flames, killing 25 and injuring at least 150 people. Referred to as the Oakland Firestorm, the hills in that area, actually all over the San Francisco Bay Area, are heavily planted with eucalyptus trees. The sap inside them boiled then exploded as the trees caught fire, sending burning embers in all directions, catching more trees on fire. This account comes from Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, written by Captain Ronald R. Parker, who was the “Division C” commander, in charge of operations at the Claremont Hotel on October 20, 1991. He is assigned to the Oakland Division of Training.

Eyewitness accounts testify that a sole ember blew into a tree just outside the burn area, and the tree exploded into flame, and the resulting fire was quickly out of control — raging around and over firefighters who were indeed fighting for their lives.

Oakland Firestorm 1991

Photo from Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team, NASA Ames Research Center

Florida is prone to droughts, and fires, as anyone who has lived there in the last ten years can tell you. I don’t think Florida wants to have their own firestorm.

With all the bioengineering going on, you have to wonder what the world will look like in say, three- or four-hundred years.

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About D. D. Syrdal

Writer of vampire stories and science fiction. Currently prepping a vampire novel for submission. If you like a vampire you can go out drinking with and still respect yourself in the morning, I think you'd like Andrej.
This entry was posted in Environment, history, suburban living, weirdness and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Frankenforests

  1. Did they say why they were choosing to plant eucalyptus trees rather than a native tree?

  2. Digital Dame says:

    They’re fast-growing, and the pulp is somehow perfectly suited for making paper out of. I cannot think of those trees without images of them exploding in balls of fire back in ’91 flashing through my mind.

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