By Anne Petermann | Earth First News
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.
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 is expected to respond to this request in the coming months.
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 down to 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. [3,4]
“GE eucalyptus trees are a disaster waiting to happen – it is critical the USDA rejects 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.
3. Could eucalyptus trees be the kudzu of the 2010s?
4. Forest Service assessment of impacts on hydrology: http://globaljusticeecology.org/stopgetrees.php?tabs=2&ID=440
5. The STOP GE Trees Campaign is a global alliance of hundreds of organizations that support a ban on any release of genetically engineered trees into the environment. In 2008 the Campaign won a decision from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, Germany warning countries to use caution when considering use of GE trees, and calling for them to be grown only in confined field trials until proven safe.
6. Georgia Department of Wildlife comments to the USDA:
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)