Groups Force USDA to Re-release Draft Environmental Assessment on Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees for Southern U.S. Forests: Original Assessment Lacked Key U.S. Forest Service Hydrological Studies
The U.S. Department of Agriculture re-released their draft environmental assessment  regarding a request by ArborGen, a subsidiary of timber giants 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. 
“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. 
The USDA is seeking public comments on their draft environmental assessment through February 18th, 2010. 
“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  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
 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
 The seven states targeted for ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus deployment are South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
 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.
 Comments to the USDA can be submitted at: http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#submitComment?R=09000064809c344a
 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.