Gotta do it

Invasive species are already causing serious trouble. Invasive diseases wiped out the vast forests of chestnuts in the Eastern U.S. These were the dominant trees. Hemlocks are threatened. Ash trees may go the way of the American elm because of the emerald ash borer. Live oaks are just suddenly dying. Whole colonies of bats and bees are disappearing. It is terrible and there is almost nothing we can do about it. Almost.

People and goods move around the world. With them come all sorts of bugs and diseases. Plants and animals cannot adapt fast enough. I am not advocating that we go back to conditions of centuries past and make sure that nothing that was not in place in 1500 be taken away. This is silly and unscientific. But I do feel it good and useful to defend species of plants and animals that supply us with our food and materials or provide invaluable ecological services on which we all depend.

I don't see solutions in the usual management. We can manage "normal" threats, but no reasonable management could have saved the chestnut trees. We are doing our best to slow the spread of the ash borer, but we will lose that fight too. The many dead live oaks made me want to cry last time I drove through the Texas hill country. I remember the thick hemlock forests near Old Rag mountain in the Shenandoah, but they live now only in memory.

But we have the tools to protect our forests and fields, tools we did not have decades ago. We can use genetic tools to make plants, animals and trees resistant to the new infections. It may soon be possible to do that with the great American chestnut. Others will follow if we allow it. I think we should demand it.

Most people fear what they don't understand and few people really understand the science behind genetic engineering. Their idea is that unless you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt (not a reasonable doubt) that something can cause no harm, it should not be allowed. That logic would have prevented electricity and antibiotics. Both these are great help to human happiness, but also have risks. Electricity kills people every year. It is certainly not 100% safe. But it is worth it.

GMO plants and animals are like electricity in this respect. But consider the alternative. We already have no chestnut trees beyond a few pathetic sprouts. Hemlocks and ash are disappearing before our eyes. We could make a long list of what we will lose if we continue business as usual. What do we risk? We risk that our efforts will not work to allow hemlocks, oaks, ash and chestnuts will once again thrive in our forests. In other words, in the worst case scenario, we end up no worse than we will be absent the solution. We need to be careful, but we need to do something. Let's do it.

Posted by Christine & John at May 5, 2013 9:04 PM
Comment #365401

The thing about natural forests is that they’re already adapted to what else is in their environment, and to the environment itself. Human beings are single-minded, focused, which is handy when we’re creating our technologies, but not so handy when it comes to dealing with chaotic interactions. You might end up creating a GMO tree that, while well designed to your purposes, is vulnerable to something in the environment that your other kind of tree is not.

One of our biggest problems is climate change. You want to know why so many parasitic insects are showing up, well one reason is that the temperatures that used to be sustained a certain levels for long enough to kill them no longer are. Drought and heat waves can kill trees. I recall many dying in our recent record-breaking heatwave, when our temperatures were reaching around 105, 110 for a whole month.

What folks like you need to realize is that part of what makes a forest a forest is the climate. If conditions consistently work against it, the kind of forests you and I are used to will simply no longer be sustainable.

I think your problem is, you’re too confident in man’s ability to engineer complex biological systems. At this point, I don’t think we’re even close to being able to do this without some disastrous, painful lessons, and genetic engineering is not as simple as going through a menu and choosing options. There are genetic elements that respond to environment, elements that respond in concert with any number of other genetic elements, rather than simply, reducibly, mechanically working towards a trait.

I am not anti-science by any means. But what’s truly anti-scientific is proceeding as if you know what the out come will be, and simply assuming one way or another how genetically engineered systems will work in the wild without extensive testing is not scientific.

There is a middle ground here, and slow and plodding as it may sometimes be, we’ve paid the price plenty of times when we go rushing into a new scientific arena without examining the situation first.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 5, 2013 11:04 PM
Comment #365407


Our “natural” forests in North America are no longer adapted to their environment and it will get worse if climate change happens.

You live in Texas hill country. How well do you know your natural environment? Ask somebody who knows about the live oaks and the bats and then tell me we can leave things alone.

The “natural” trees are vulnerable to new environmental threats. Their GMO cousins will have most of the same traits but added resistance to the new threats.

“…without extensive testing is not scientific.” You made this assumption w/o reading the link. There is already and will be more extensive testing.

“If conditions consistently work against it, the kind of forests you and I are used to will simply no longer be sustainable.” - right. That is why we need to work to save our forests. If we do nothing, we will be left with environments that are much poorer for us and sustain less life.

Our choices are limited. There is no “natural” choice on the menu card. We can choose between scientific management and negligent management.

I have been studying an loving forests all my life. I have seen changes take place. Many changes are indeed “natural.” In the period of my own observation, I have seen oak dominated forests move to more beech-maple. This transformation take a long time, but when we excluded fire it began and now is in advanced stages in many place. But some is unnatural. I watched my elms die and have seen the hemlocks, which used to perform such an important hydrological function, disappear. These things happened because of human interventions that were not planned, things that we can do something to change.

We should not let ignorance and fear destroy our forest heritage. We can have our forest, but only if we work to manage them with intelligence.

Posted by: C&J at May 6, 2013 5:35 AM
Comment #365416

Pretty unnerving scenario where the future of mankind has to rely on GMO products to sustain life. Are corporations going to end up not only controlling gov’ts but also in control of foodstocks and timber.

Corporations currently own/control most of the mineral/mined resources thru direct ownership or mining rights.

Should we trash any effort at population control and assume corporations are going to find a way to save us?

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at May 6, 2013 10:56 AM
Comment #365420

I don’t live in Texas Hill Country. That’s to my Northwest, quite a ways away. I’m on the Gulf Coast.

I remember a time when the woods were more plentiful, when the heat in summer was less extreme. You’d rarely see temperature break a hundred. It used to rain more here.

As for the rest? I’d say I’ve read enough about points where we tried to introduce some sort of new species artificially, and the result was less than splendiferous. Hell, when I took the trip to Washington and Philadelphia those two summers long ago, I recall a bunch of the kudzu vines growing over things.

In essence, I’d say that we’re not really qualify to play God, we lack the omniscience. We have to exercise discipline in what we do because history has shown we are completely capable of making things worse.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 6, 2013 1:33 PM
Comment #365422
heat in summer was less extreme. You’d rarely see temperature break a hundred.

The problem with anecdotal evidence is that it is often skewed by our perceptions as they change through the years and as a result are much less reliable.

Posted by: Rhinehold at May 6, 2013 3:02 PM
Comment #365424

WP article relates that ports on East and West coast are dredging for 50’ ship drafts in planning for the wider Panama canal. In Newark asthma related deaths are near double the rate in the suburbs. With the canal Long Beach trucking will increase from about 500 daily to 8000 if one believes what they read. But, corporations are going to save them by
inventing clearer fuel, etc.

Another article relates that Europe’s carbon market has gone bust. Was above $40/ton and now below $4.

Nuther article relates that ‘valley fever’, prevalent in arid regions of US, Mex and Central Am. is on the rise due to climate change. Nationwide cases are up 850% from 1998. Some 21k cases, mostly in Calif in 2011.

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at May 6, 2013 4:04 PM
Comment #365433

Major US beekeeper has been losing about 5% of his bees yearly. This year he took a 42% hit. Likely cause is a soup of pesticides.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at May 6, 2013 7:21 PM
Comment #365434


These are not new species. They are things like your familiar live oak with resistance to wilt, for example.

RE playing God - we have already done that. The species that we grew up with are threatened by these new bugs etc.

I would prefer my old friends, my hemlocks, oaks, elms and ash to be as they were. This will not be possible in the near future and already is not possible. The hemlocks that lined streams in Virginia and Carolina since the end of the last ice age are mostly gone. They will not be back w/o some help.

There is no wise leave it alone choice available. If there was such a choice, I would take it. The die is cast. We can either react stupidly or with some circumspection.

Your fears will doom our forests.

You are right about kudzo, as well as other pest such as multiflora rose. Those are growing all over the place as a result of government mandates. I have used that as an example of why we should be careful with giving government too much authority. But they can be easily controlled, if we just do it. Goats and cattle will graze kudzo and controlled burns will take care of it. These are nuisances but not the threats that these bugs are.

Posted by: C&J at May 6, 2013 7:22 PM
Comment #365437

Climate change, Global Warming: it’s all a lie. It’s not even worth talking about.

BENGHAZI: IS THE BIG LIE. Let’s talk about the Obama administration lying to the American people; let’s talk about Hillary Clinton being thrown under the bus…AGAIN; let’s talk about an administration that shut down the rescue of Americans (4 of which died); let’s talk about an administration who absolutely refuses to call Islamic Terrorist what they are…terrorists; let’s talk about an administration that lied to the American people that the problems were caused over a video; and let’s talk about an administration that actively tried to fire up the Muslim countries by apologizing for a video that no one even knew about. Let’s talk about the disgust of the Obama administration. Let’s talk about the statute of limitations for Americans being murdered in Benghazi. Jay Carney said that “happened a long time ago” and Hillary says “WHO CARES WHY THEY DIED”.

Posted by: CasperWY at May 6, 2013 9:21 PM
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