The American chestnut, whitebark pine, and several species of ash in the eastern United States are just a few of the North American tree species that have been functionally lost or are in jeopardy of being lost due to outbreaks of pathogens and insect pests. New pressures in this century are putting even more trees at risk. Expanded human mobility and global trade are providing pathways for the introduction of nonnative pests for which native tree species may lack resistance. At the same time, climate change is extending the geographic range of both native and nonnative pest species.
Biotechnology has the potential to help mitigate threats to North American forests from insects and pathogens through the introduction of pest-resistant traits to forest trees. However, challenges remain: the genetic mechanisms that underlie trees’ resistance to pests are poorly understood; the complexity of tree genomes makes incorporating genetic changes a slow and difficult task; and there is a lack of information on the effects of releasing new genotypes into the environment.
This report recommends research and investment to improve the utility of biotechnology as a forest health tool. The report also stresses the need for developing respectful, deliberative, transparent, and inclusive processes to engage people on the issue—both to increase public understanding of threats to forest health and to understand public views on biotechnology and other interventions in order to inform decision-making.