Tree Biotechnology
in the New Millennium
July 22-27, 2001


International Symposium on Ecological and Societal Aspects of Transgenic Forest Plantations

July 22-24, 2001
Skamania Lodge, Stevenson, Washington
Columbia River Gorge
Pacific Northwest United States



Forests play prominent and diverse roles in the lives of people, biotic communities, and ecosystems. We are economically dependent on forests for numerous products, but also tend them to provide sources of clean water, habitat, and recreational and spiritual sanctuaries. Because of the broad array of uses and functions for forests, changes in the species or genetic characteristics of the trees that dominate them are of significant ecological and societal concern.

The ability to genetically modify forest trees via asexual methods is in its infancy. However, some kinds of modified trees could find their way out of laboratories and field plots and onto the world's landscapes within a few years. Many more possibilities for genetic modification will soon arise as a result of the genomics revolution in biology--where thousands of genes can be isolated and studied in a modest time frame.


The kinds of genes employed, and the kinds of tree species and productions systems in which they are inserted, are extraordinarily diverse. Generalities about benefits and safety of GM trees are therefore of very limited scientific value. A key goal of this symposium is to move past generalities and consider specific ecological benefits and safety concerns that apply to diverse kinds of genetic alterations and management regimes.

Because the use and control of genetically modified trees affects the societal distribution of their benefits and risks, both real and perceived, the symposium will begin with consideration of societal and ethical context within which genetically modified trees are considered and employed. Ecological issues will comprise the majority of the symposium.


The symposium is planned for July 22-24, 2001, at Skamania Lodge, in the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon.It will begin with a reception the evening of July 22, plenary lectures will occur on July 23, then breakout sessions and summary lectures will be held on July 24. It will be held as a satellite meeting, in conjunction with a week-long international meeting of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) unit on Molecular Biology of Forest Trees:


Concurrent break-out sessions, described below, will be employed to analyze and make recommendations about specific ecological issues. Each breakout session will be repeated at least once to give different subsets of participants a chance to reach independent conclusions. Results of the breakout sessions will be presented to the reconvened group. The meeting will end with summary perspectives from several speakers, including the moderators, and a written survey of views.

A proceedings with short papers from the speakers, including a summary of the break-out sessions and surveys, will be edited, formatted, publicized widely, and made available internationally via the world wide web. 

>>Speaker Publication Guidelines<<




Dr. Hal Salwasser

Future Forests: Environmental and Social Contexts for Forest Biotechnologies

Dr. Salwasser is Dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and former Research Station Director and Regional Forester for the United States Forest Service. He is a wildlife biologist, former President of the Wildlife Society, and played a major role in moving the U.S. Forest Service toward ecologically based forest management systems.





Dr. Steve Strauss

Scope, guidelines, and goals for symposium

Dr. Strauss leads a university-industry consortium on forest biotechnology focused on analysis of and genetic engineering solutions to ecological concerns of gene flow from transgenic plantations.





Dr. Paul Risser

Dr. Risser is President of Oregon State University and an ecologist who has been active in resolving national and international ecological and policy issues.


Drs. Michael Clegg and Hal Salwasser

Moderating the symposium toward meaningful exchange and synthesis

Dr. Clegg is Professor at the University of California, Riverside, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He is a world renowned plant geneticist who studies molecular mechanisms of plant diversity and evolution, and has been involved with several studies of issues surrounding plant biotechnology.





Dr. Roger Sedjo

Economic contribution of biotechnology and forest plantations in global wood supply and forest conservation

Dr. Sedjo is a resource economist at Resources for the Future in Washington, D.C.  He has written widely on the role of plantations in meeting global fiber demands, and the potential for biotechnology to elevate economic productivity.

Dr. David Victor

Plantations and forest protection: a long-term, global view

Dr. David G. Victor is the Director, Science and Technology Program, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. He has written widely on international environmental law; trade and environment; energy technology; and global warming.





Dr. W. Steven Burke

Growing new questions: The societal and ethical imperatives of forest biotechnology, and the role of the Institute of Forest Biotechnology

Mr. Burke is Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs and External Relations, North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Mr. Burke has worked on development of new biotechnology communities, shaped by geography and content area, and the associated public, societal, and ethical issues that must necessarily be considered in those communities. The Institute of Forest Biotechnology was created in 2000 by senior representatives of the academic, industry, and policy sectors, to assist in the effective and thoughtful development of forest biotechnology worldwide.

Dr. Alan Lucier, Rex McCullough, and Dr Maud Hinchee

Forest Biotechnology and the forest products Industry


Dr. Lucier is Senior Vice President of the National Council of Air and Stream Improvement.

Dr. Don S. Doering

Will the marketplace see the sustainable forest for the transgenic trees?

Dr. Doering is on the senior staff of the World Resources Institute, a leading research institute in environment and development policy and action. He leads a project on genetic engineering that engages the private sector on business and scientific strategy to serve sustainability goals of food, material, and environmental security.





Dr. Paul B. Thompson

Ethics of molecular silviculture

Dr. Thompson is the author of Food Biotechnology in Perspective and internationally known for his work on the environmental ethics of genetic engineering. He holds the Joyce and Edward E. Brewer Chair in Applied Ethics at Purdue University

Dr. Sandra Thomas

Ethical and social considerations in commercial uses of transgenic food and fiber crops

Dr. Thomas heads the Program at Bioethics at the Nuffield Foundation in the UK, and led in the production of their landmark 1999 report entitled "Genetically Modified Crops: the Social and Ethical Issues." 





Drs. John Kough and David Heron

Regulation of Transgenic Plants in the United States

Dr Kough is a scientist in the biopesticides program at the US Environmental Protection Agency. It has authority for regulation of trees with pest resistance genes incorporated via asexual gene transfer methods. Dr. Heron has been a key scientist on the plant biotechnology regulatory team at USDA, and has participated in many national and international fora concerning regulation of transgenic crops that have interfertile wild relatives, including trees.

Dr. Sue Mayer

International regulation and public acceptance of GM trees: demanding a new approach to risk assessment

Dr Sue Mayer is the Executive Director of GeneWatch based in the UK. She has a PhD in Veterinary Cell Biology from Bristol University, was Director of Science at Greenpeace UK from 1990-1995 where she was involved in developing policy on genetically modified organisms, and is currently a member of the UK Government's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.





Drs. Dave Ellis and Rick Meilan

Technical feasibility of genetic engineering in forestry: Transformation, transgene stability, sterility, and somaclonal variation.

Dr. Ellis is a leading researcher at a private biotechnology company, and has produced and tested transgenic conifer and hardwood trees for a number of years. Dr. Meilan is Associate Director of The Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative at Oregon State University and has worked with forest industries on field assessments of transgenic poplars.

Drs. Rowland Burdon and Christian Walter

Perspectives on risk of transgenic forest plantations in relation to conventional breeding and use of exotic pines and eucalypts: Viewpoints of practicing breeding and transformation scientists.

Dr. Burdon, who is currently Science Fellow at the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, is widely known in the fields of tree breeding and quantitative genetics. Also at NZFRI, Dr Walter is a leading scientist in the field of conifer genetic engineering, and has developed transformation protocols for a variety of conifer species.

Dr. Kenneth Raffa

Use of transgenic resistance in short-rotation poplars: Efficacy, risk, and integration with other pest management tactics 

Dr. Raffa is at the university of Wisconsin, and has been a leader in assessing how to use insect-resistant trees within integrated resistance management programs to increase the durability of resistance and minimize non-target impacts.





Drs. Jim Boyle, Helene Lundkvist and Tat Smith

Ecological and landscape considerations for intensive forestry systems

Dr. Boyle is a Professor of Forestry and Soil Ecology at Oregon State University. He has taught and studied forest ecosystem sustainability for more than three decades, and co-edited the books "Planted Forests: Contributions to the Quest for Sustainable Societies" and "Forest Soils and Ecosystem Sustainability." Dr Lundkvist is a Professor of Soil Ecology at the Forestry Faculty of The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Her research is focussed upon how soil organisms and processes are affected by forest management practices. Dr. Smith is a Professor of Forest Ecology and Soils and Head of the Department of Forest Science at Texas A&M University. He has conducted extensive research on environmental sustainability of intensive forest management systems around the world.

Dr. Faith T. Campbell

Genetically engineered trees: proceed only with caution

Dr. Campbell heads the invasive species program at American Lands Alliance, an environmental organization committed to protecting forests and other ecosystems. Dr. Campbell has written widely on the policy challenges posed by invasive alien plants and forest pests and more recently on those raised by genetically engineered trees.

Dr. John Hayes

Biodiversity implications of transgenic plantations

Dr. Hayes is an Associate Professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Forest Science at Oregon State University and is program coordinator for the Cooperative Forest Ecosystem Research (CFER) program. His research has emphasized the biodiversity implictions of forest management.

Drs. Brian Johnson and Keith Kirby

Potential effects of genetically modified trees on biodiversity of forest plantations: a global view

Dr. Johnson is head of biotechnology assessment, for English Nature, a statutory body that advises the UK government on impacts of agriculture and forestry practices on ecological health of the British environment, and maintains legally protected areas and national nature reserves. Dr. Kirby directs forestry conservation and restoration programs for English Nature.

Drs. Jim Hancock and Karen Hokanson

Invasiveness of transgenic vs. exotic plant species: How useful is the analogy?

Dr. Hancock is a Professor at Michigan State University and author of the book "Crop Evolution and the Origin of Crop Species." He has have published a number of articles on the risk of pollen escape, and has been an invited panalist at a number of national and international conferences on transgenic risk assessment. Dr. Hokanson is currently on the Environmental Monitoring Team of the Invasive Species and Pest Management Unit with USDA/APHIS.





These sessions will address the appropriate global and biological contexts within which transgenic trees should be considered; the desirability, feasibility, and implications of genetically engineered fertility reduction; and implications of wood and pest management traits that could realistically be employed in production forests within the next two decades. The tentative list of breakout sessions and the questions they will seek answers to are shown below. Major questions for consideration are shown with bullets; ancillary questions are indented and without bullets.



    • A) Economic risks and benefits. Can GM trees make a significant contribution to economic efficiency of global forestry?

    • B) Environmental risks and benefits. Can GM trees make a significant contribution to environmental soundness of global forestry?

    • C) What are the most urgent research needs to address scientific and public concerns?

        D) Should there be a moratorium on field and/or laboratory research?

        E) What is a wise pace of research, development, and deployment given global economic and environmental pressures from expanding population and consumption?

        F) Would a more transparent and accessible system for commercial use, one that is less proprietary and provides for public monitoring of results of large scale applications, improve public acceptance & progress? Or might this have the opposite effect by discouraging investment and encouraging vandalism and misrepresentations?

        G) Would a regulatory system that includes more diverse public input on non-technical issues (ethics, social benefits, etc.) improve acceptance and use, or exacerbate political gridlock and misunderstanding, generated by those strongly opposed?


    • A) Considering that GM trees in forestry will be used largely in intensive plantation systems for the foreseeable future, are the ecological issues that GM plantations present significantly different in magnitude than those already inherent in those systems (e.g., exotics, hybrids, intensive breeding, intensive silviculture)? How?

    • B) On what scale (stand, landscape, globe) should effects of GM plantations on biodiversity be considered?

    • C) Will GM trees that are herbicide resistant, insect resistant, sterile, or have modified wood cause unacceptable impacts on biodiversity?

    • D) To what extent are experiments on a large scale (plantations, landscapes) required for learning about benefits and ecological concerns, or can these be adequately be predicted from greenhouse and small-scale trials?

        E) For what plantation systems/species, if any, would a lack of flowering be a significant biodiversity concern?

        F) Can GM trees with these traits result in economic benefit and increased biodiversity at the stand or landscape levels with proper management?


    • A) Are fertility reduction systems needed, or desirable, to minimize spread of ALL types of GM trees?

    • B) What kinds of GM traits, if any, are expected to lead to increased weediness, invasiveness, or dysgenesis? Do single genes for pest resistance, such as Bt, pose significant risks for ecological damage due to increased invasiveness by forest trees?

    • C) For what kinds of GM traits, in what species and environments, are fertility control systems highly desirable? Why?

    • D) How effective must fertility reduction systems be (stability, efficiency), when needed, to give tolerable environmental impacts? Can transgenes, using best current transformation technology, provide adequate stability in expression of sterility genes? How can this be determined, established via research, and monitored?

    • E) Is the analogy between GM species and planned introduction of beneficial species a useful one, or a misleading one, considering the magnitude of their biological risks and potential for unpredictable impacts on the environment?

      F) Should all GM trees be considered potentially invasive until proven otherwise via experimentation? How can this be done with adequate confidence?

      G) Do GM trees, currently foreseeable, pose a threat to wild forests through their increased invasiveness?


    • A) What are the goals of wood domestication? How do GM goals differ from those of conventional breeding? How much variation exists among and within species?

    • B) Do trees with GM wood pose greater concerns than those of genetically novel trees produced during conventional breeding (families, clones, hybrids, provenances)?

    • C) Do trees with GM wood pose risks that cannot be assessed during field testing over multiple years and environments that is part of conventional breeding?

    • D) Would trees with GM wood require special containment or deployment considerations in any circumstances? When?

        E) Are changes to nutrient cycles or trophic interactions expected that are greater than those normally encountered in traditional plantation silviculture?

        F) Are the threats of biotic disasters (epidemics, insect outbreaks) that only appear after large scale use great?


    • A) Can insect resistance that results from one or few types of transgenes (e.g. Bt), be considered sustainable in plantation forestry? Can transgenic systems be considered sustainable, even if specific genes are not (e.g., sequential uses of different transgenes)? In what kinds of plantation systems and species is major gene insect resistance an acceptable option?

    • B) Are non-target effects of pest resistance transgenes on insects and soil organisms likely to be great or modest? Will they be similar in magnitude to other impacts from intensive silviculture of plantation forests (species, genetics, weed control, density control, fertilization)?

    • C) Are herbicide resistant trees expected to have significant economic or environmental benefits? Why and where?

    • D) Are herbicide resistant trees expected to lead to significant environmental damage? Why and where?



Lessons from the symposium: Reducing diverse views to research priorities, policy, and practice.

Each pair of speakers will present their views of the key points reached, and areas of consensus and disagreement.












Ecological science




Biotechnology/genetics; Consensus biotechnology statement




NGO/environmental; Consensus environmental statement




Moderator perspectives, synthesis statement


Dr. Botkin is a senior forest ecologist who has worked and written widely on diverse environmental and forestry issues. He now serves on the biotechnology Advisory Committee of the USDA.

Dr. McCullough served as Senior Vice President for Research at Weyerhaeuser Corporation, and has been a national and international leader in setting research directions for forestry science.