Three Arrested Blockading Bus at Genetically Engineered Tree Conference
Three demonstrators were brutally arrested yesterday at the controversial Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference in Asheville, NC. They attempted to use genetically engineered (GE) caution tape to wrap a bus full of conference participants headed for an upscale dinner at the Biltmore Estate. Dozens more groaning zombie "franken-tree" protesters banged pots and pans and chanted anti-genetically engineered tree slogans.
photolangelle.org for Global Justice Ecology Project.
Will Bennington, a campaigner with Global Justice Ecology Project and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, was one of those arrested for blockading the buses. "We're blocking the buses because these conference attendees are on their way to dinner at the Biltmore Estate," said Bennington. "Built by the Vanderbilts, the Biltmore is a symbol of the wealthy and powerful, and one of the birthplaces of industrial forestry in the U.S., which wiped out forests from coast to coast. The tree biotechnology industry is continuing this destructive legacy. They plan to cut down native forests and replace them with GE tree plantations grown solely for the profit of the elite at the expense of local communities and biodiversity."
Protesters are demanding a ban on the release of GE trees into the environment. South Carolina-based ArborGen, a major conference sponsor, has a request pending with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release millions of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees annually for planting in vast plantations across the U.S. South.
photolangelle.org for Global Justice Ecology Project.
On Monday, two Asheville residents were arrested after invading the conference and disrupting the opening day. On Tuesday, hundreds of people marched through the streets and rallied outside the conference hotel as conference participants took part in a workshop on the future of forest biotechnology. It was the largest anti-GE tree protest to date.
Wednesday, the conference organizers had planned a field trip for conference participants but it was canceled due to the threat of protests.
"Trees should not be burned for fuel—this is a false solution to climate change," said a local woman with Katuah Earth First! who was arrested yesterday. "Monoculture plantations for bioenergy are already displacing Indigenous Peoples and local communities all over the world, and they will have a major impact on rural livelihoods and biodiversity here in the U.S. South."
"GE trees like ArborGen's highly flammable, water-intensive and invasive eucalyptus would be especially devastating to our communities in the face of drought and extreme weather due to climate change."
The Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference, taking place in Asheville from May 26 May to June 1, is the premier international conference on GE trees, organized by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.