World Rainforest Movement

United States: Opposition to U.S. Conference on Fast Growing Plantations

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) conference “Forest Plantations Meeting: Sustainable Forest Management with Fast Growing Plantations” 10-13 October, 2006 encountered heavy opposition by several environmental and ecological justice groups.

The groups involved in the opposition acted in solidarity with those in the Global South who are suffering due to large-scale monoculture timber plantations –from Asia (including India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Vietnam) to Africa (including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana), Latin America (including Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru), and Oceania (including Aotearoa/New Zeland, Australia).

The southern U.S., where the IUFRO conference took place, is the home of some of the largest timber plantations in the world, with one out of every five tree covered acres in plantations, mainly loblolly pine. The area has seen tremendous conversion from native forest to industrial timber plantations and the rural poor have been heavily impacted. South Carolina is also the international headquarters of ArborGen, a joint venture of International Paper, MeadWestvaco, and New Zealand’s Rubicon. ArborGen was one of the conference sponsors and is the leader in the research and development of genetically engineered (GE) trees. South Carolina is home to the most GE tree test plots in the U.S.

Here are some of the highlights of the opposition:

• A month prior to the conference, Dogwood Alliance, Global Justice Ecology Project, ForestEthics and the STOP GE Trees Campaign traveled on a speaking tour around the southeastern U.S. to raise awareness of the effects of large scale monoculture timber plantations in that region and in the Global South including the threat of GE trees being introduced into those plantations.

• Immediately prior to the IUFRO conference we held our “A Tree Farm Is Not A Forest” Public Forum. It was originally booked at the Science Building of the College of Charleston, but the Dean objected when she learned that industry would not be presenting. She blocked us from using the building. Undeterred, we held the opening night of the forum in the auditorium of the College’s Business Center. The controversy generated by the Dean helped increase our attendance.
• On the opening day of the industry conference, Earth First! and Rising Tide joined us to send an anti-plantations (and GE trees) message to the industry conference. On a ferry ride to tour Fort Sumter — the first official event of the industry conference— protesters rode alongside the ferry in boats displaying several banners including some in Spanish and Portuguese in solidarity with our friends in Chile and Brazil. The action created quite a stir on the ferry among both the conference attendees and the 200 other tourists. The ferry captain apparently approved as he gave the banner crew a big thumbs up.

• Next our report “The Ecological and Social Impacts of Fast Growing Timber Plantations and Genetically Engineered Trees” was presented inside the industry conference. Danna Smith of the Dogwood Alliance spoke on the impact of large-scale loblolly pine plantations on the ecosystems and rural communities of the U.S. South and Neil Carman of the Sierra Club discussed the wholesale ecological destruction that would occur if native forests were contaminated by GE tree pollen and seeds. Global Justice Ecology Project Co-Director Anne Petermann discussed the active resistance to existing large-scale tree plantations by indigenous communities like the Mapuche people in Chile and the Tupinikim and Guarani peoples in Brazil, and by social movements like the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (MST). Petermann also described the potential social impacts on indigenous and rural communities from genetically engineered eucalyptus and pine plantations in those countries.

The presentation included photos taken last November of villages built by indigenous Tupinikim and Guarani peoples on land they had reclaimed from vast eucalyptus plantations owned by Aracruz Cellulose, the world’s largest exporter of bleached eucalyptus pulp. There were also photos of the annihilation of these villages by governmental forces using Aracruz Cellulose equipment. The presentation also included images of Mapuche resistance to plantations in Chile and of the repression they have faced at the hands of the government—which has dredged up old laws from the Pinochet era to use against Mapuche activists.

The presentations generated much controversy at the industry conference. A representative from Aracruz Cellulose took exception to the portrayal of his company —especially in Petermann’s presentation, that included the International Women’s Day action earlier this year in Brazil at an Aracruz Cellulose nursery where 2,000 masked women form Via Campesina destroyed approximately 8 million eucalyptus seedlings. He responded by offering a tour of his company’s facilities and plantations in Brazil to allow people to see for themselves. We forwarded his offer to our allies in Brazil, who may wish to take him up on it.

• A local group formed out of the Charleston activities and its first official action was the day they did guerilla theatre against ArborGen at the DoubleTree breakfast for the industry conference participants. This local group will be extremely important, especially with ArborGen located around 20 miles from Charleston.

• All of these efforts helped conceptualize a potential “South-to-South” network to oppose to large scale monoculture timber plantations and GE trees (basically a network between the U.S. South and the Global South), which are linked due to the threats each faces from timber plantations and GE trees. We believe it’s important for the resistance in the Global South to know that there are people in the southern U.S. also struggling against plantations and showing solidarity with communities in the Global South. This South to South initiative can help bridge some of the gaps internationally and there are tremendous movements underway in the Global South that are inspiring to people in the industrialized north.

By Orin Langelle and Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, e-mail:,