Leila Pinchot wrote an excellent article on the use of advanced biotechnologies to help restore the American chestnut for the Forest Guild’s publication, Forest Wisdom. This article discusses the efforts of the Forest Health Initiative to test the potential of using biotechnologies to help solve forest health problems:
What made the FHI unique was that, from the very beginning, the group understood the importance of involving multiple stakeholders through the entire process of developing the GE chestnut – it couldnt just be industry biotechnicians working behind closed doors. To encourage a productive conversation about the potential uses, threats and benefits of this technology, a transparent conversation is absolutely imperative.
The IFB’s Responsible Use: Biotech Tree Principles and the need for these best management practices are also discussed:
Another partner at the table was the Institute of Forest Biosciences (IFB), a non-profit formed in 2005, when forest biotechnology research was rapidly expanding, to the dismay of a dubious public (it was around this time that Europeans were fervently rejecting GE food crops). IFB was established in order to promote a dialogue among all stakeholders on the responsible use of forest biotechnology. Per Susan McCord, IFBs Ex ecutive Director, We needed an organization to bridge research and industry, to look at how to responsibly bring on new the technology. Federal agencies regulate the development and testing of transgenic plants, including trees, however the IFBs new board wanted to increase the transparency of the development of transgenic trees. This was based on the understanding that keeping the public in the dark would only increase mistrust of the technology. The IFBs recently released Responsible Use Biotech Tree Principles offer forest biotechnicians a set of voluntary guidelines, similar to Best Management Practices, for the responsible development, testing, and out-planting of transgenic trees. When asked what the main difference between the status quo process of the development of GE trees and the Responsible Use principles, IFBs President, Adam Costanza, said Transparency. We need researchers and industry to communicate with stakeholders. Communicate early, and often.
The article ends with a compelling question to the reader:
We are in a geologic era, called the Anthropocene, defined by the action of humans, as opposed to naturally occurring forces. As articulated by the title of Bill McKibbons 1989 book, in some ways we are experiencing The End of Nature, in a world where ecosystems can no longer be thought of as independent of humans. Forest management in the anthropocene is very complex, as it requires that we make management decisions today that may or may not reflect the ecological conditions of the future. It is in this context, in which we may lose American chestnut, eastern hemlock, American beech, butternut, black walnut, Port-orford cedar, flowering dogwood, the elms and the ashes; all species threatened with functional extinction and all candidates for protection or restoration via GE techniques, that we ask what tools are appropriate for forest management in the Anthropocene. Should we count on traditional breeding, should we wait for the hope of natural recovery, or do we need every tool to bring back this keystone species to hold together threatened forests?
This article is insightful and well worth the read.