A naked tree in the forest

The genetically engineered trees I witnessed were bare, not a leaf, a needle or any green on them. They didn’t even have bark. These are features the logging industry wants, to reduce processing. In this environment, the pine cones that feed forest-dwelling creatures would no longer exist.


Sherrie Versluis Feathered Friends
Sherrie Versluis

I recently wrote in this column about the introduction of genetically modified foods to our food supply. Regardless of whether a person is for or against this, I feel such foods should be labelled clearly so we as consumers can choose what we want to put into our bodies. On a recent trip to British Columbia, I was introduced to another form of genetic engineering that was so bizarre I am glad I saw it with my own two eyes.I wouldn’t otherwise believe it was happening.

As I drove along a highway, I could see in the distance what I thought was a forest. But what kind? was the question. Was it diseased? Poisoned?

Engineering the forest

As I approached I saw a large sign saying something about experimental. I pulled over. The sign explained that these were test patches of genetically engineered trees. Of course this inspired me to further investigate.
As we all know, the logging industry is huge and often controversial, especially when old-growth forests are involved. Some trees can take up to one hundred years to grow to a logging company’s preferred size. As I drove through B.C., I saw many clear-cut patches on the scenic mountains that were now just parched ground and stumps amid the green forest, a result of selective logging, where specific areas are chosen for removal.

It will not be in my lifetime that any of these areas will be back to what they once were. Hence the need for faster growing trees, but at what cost to our air and forest-dwelling creatures and organisms, and the rest?

The genetically engineered trees I witnessed were absolutely bare, not a leaf or needle or anything green on them. In fact, they didn’t even really have bark. These are the features the logging industry is looking for to cut down on processing. In such an environment, the pine cones that feed many forest dwelling creatures would no longer exist. The trees would also produce their own pesticides so that insects would not be an issue.

The big concern about these genetically engineered trees is pollen. Natural pine pollen travels in the wind hundreds of miles. What will happen when GE pollen meets natural forests? I have read about potential “birth control” for GE trees so they would not produce any pollen, but there is no guarantee that maybe a single branch on the tree would not still produce it.

The logging industry supplies us with pulp for paper products and of course lumber. One of the biggest promoted alternatives to the pulp is hemp. There is even a product called Hempcrete that has been substituted for wood and is a very durable insulating material.

Hemp is extremely fast growing and is renewable, reusable and recyclable. A relative of marijuana, hemp was banned in Canada until 1998 and has since become increasingly popular among prairie farmers. It was reported that in 2003 some 2,700 hectares of industrial hemp were grown and that increased to 25,000 in 2010.

Hemp also provides a fibre used in textiles that makes an UV light, mold and mildew resistant, breathable fabric. It is used in everything from clothing, rugs/carpets, outdoor gear and much more. It is certainly a remarkably versatile plant even producing extremely nutritious seeds that contain high levels of omega oils and amino acids. If the GE tree does not manage to fit in with the industry’s plans for the future forest industry, will hemp one day take its place?

A forest by definition is a highly complex environment made up of a variety of living things like trees, moss, wildflowers, ferns, fungi and microscopic organisms, and non-living things like water, air, nutrients and rocks. There are also the forest dwelling creatures like bears, moose, chipmunks, insects and of course the music of the forest, the birds. The trees are the biggest part of this complex community.

A genetically engineered forest would not support any of this life and would produce nothing but silence. Except for the sound of a saw as another GE tree falls in the “forest”. Say it isn’t so. We want neither a genetically engineered forest nor a farm crop pretending to replace the storied woody growth humans have cherished for so long.

Sherrie Versluis owns The Preferred Perch. She can be reached at 204-257-3724.

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