Broward News

Frankenforests in Florida: Campaign Condemns Genetically Engineered Trees, Hassles with UF

Like we don't have enough to worry about, now it's forests. According to environmentalists touring the Southeast with the traveling teach-in "The Growing Threat," the creation of enormous plantations of genetically engineered trees -- by corporate interests allied with Big Energy -- poses ecological risks and endangers human safety and health.

Florida is ground zero for the explosion of GE trees, with Jupiter-based U.S. Ecogen in the lead. The company has begun work on a Polk County power plant for which it plans to grow and burn up to 500,000 tons a year of eucalyptus, with other plants and forests planned in Okeechobee, Clay, and Martin counties. The Polk plant is to supply Progress Energy; the others will supply FPL.

This storm has been brewing at least since the year 2000, when a consortium of multinationals joined to create the globe-spanning company ArborGen, in order to "deliver superior performing trees through innovative science and world class customer service." In 2010, ArborGen fought off the opposition of a coalition of environmental groups and won approval from the USDA to begin a massive GE trees pilot project across the Southeast U.S.

The environmentalists argued then -- and "The Growing Threat" campaign argues now -- that the GE eucalyptus trees (the corporations' tree of choice, being even naturally fast-growing) "will likely cause":

Clearcutting of biodiverse forests for conversion to industrial GE eucalyptus plantations--called "green deserts" due to their devastating impacts on biodiversity;

Invasive spread of GE eucalyptus trees into native ecosystems--eucalyptus are already a documented invasive species in Florida and California;

Increased danger of firestorms-Eucalyptus contain a highly volatile oil and are explosively flammable;

Displacement of wildlife that cannot use the non-native eucalyptus trees for habitat or food;

Contamination of soils and groundwater with toxic agrochemicals used on the plantations;

Worsening of Drought-Eucalyptus have deep tap roots, monopolize ground water and dry up soils;

Worsening of climate change through the destruction of carbon rich native forests for carbon poor plantations.

Neither U.S. Ecogen nor ArborGen have responded to New Times' request for comment.

"The Growing Threat" tour, a project of the Global Justice Ecology Project and Everglades Earth First!, has had some trouble along the way, in Gainesville yesterday, when University of Florida police barred the group from the school's campus.

According to a UF Police report, six members and allies of the tour trespassed on school grounds despite being told a planned teach-in was impossible because the facility's A/V equipment was on the fritz. A school spokesperson told New Times the tour's access was improperly arranged in the first place, as the group obtained permission from building management rather than the office of student activities.

According to Keith Brunner, a GJEP member, the UF dust-up was the result of an innocent misunderstanding. "Our experience at other schools," he told New Times, "is that access for events of this type is much more informal. When the police showed up, we were caught off-guard." Besides, he said, "We had our own audio/visual equipment." The Growing Threat: Genetically Engineered Trees and the Future of Forests

October 30, Wednesday, 2 p.m. FAU/Palm Beach State College Campus Bldg. # HT, Room 102 3000 Saint Lucie Drive, Boca Raton

October 30, Wednesday, 7 p.m. Sweat Records 5505 NE Second St., Miami

November 1, Friday, 7 p.m. Quaker Meeting House 823 N. "A" St., Lake Worth

Questions and further info: [email protected].

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected].

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