CORVALLIS - Leading experts from around the world will convene in the Pacific Northwest July 22-27 for conferences that will tackle some of the most controversial issues relating to the science, ecology and ethics of forest biotechnology.
Their goal: to try developing a scientific plan of action for the future.
Both proponents and critics of this emerging science will attend, including biotechnology researchers from industry and academia, policy experts, economists, ethicists, agency regulators, and representatives of environmental groups.
"The ability to genetically modify forest trees is in its infancy," said Steven Strauss, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University, international expert in the use of biotechnology in forestry, and a co-organizer of these meetings with H.D. "Toby" Bradshaw at the University of Washington.
"Although most applications are many years in the future, some modified trees for very specific applications could move out of our laboratories and test plots within the decade," Strauss said. "Our forests have many uses and functions of great importance, and because of that any genetic changes in trees are a significant ecological and societal concern we should address."
Symposium organizers say they hope to achieve a working consensus about the specific benefits, risks, ethics and ecology of the use of genetic engineering in forestry, which will allow the field to move past generalities and towards a reasonable, scientific action plan that people can understand and accept.
The meetings of professionals in this field will be held at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash., in the Columbia River gorge. Work will begin with an "International Symposium on Ecological and Societal Aspects of Transgenic Forest Plantations." That symposium will be a satellite meeting held concurrently with the conference, "Tree Biotechnology in the Next Millennium," sponsored by the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations, which will cover new scientific developments.
In working breakout sessions in the ecological symposium, experts will address and try to answer some of the more difficult and controversial concerns in this field of study. Such questions include:
Following the meetings, the conference organizers plan to compile the conclusions of the discussions and scientific presentations and make them available publicly, and internationally via the Internet.
Speakers at the meetings include some of the most recognized and prominent experts working in forestry, social science and biotechnology. They include Paul Risser, president of OSU and an ecologist who has been active in resolving national and international policy issues; keynote speaker Kristiina Vogt, dean of the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington and an expert on forest ecology and management; and Hal Salwasser, dean of the College of Forestry at OSU and a leader in moving the U.S. Forest Service towards ecologically-based forest management systems.
Other participants will be from the fields of global policy, business, bioethics, government and regulation, forest science, and ecology. They include:
Information about registration, fees, and attendance at these meetings can be obtained by calling 541-737-2329, or online.
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Steven Strauss, 541-737-6578