Once again, misguided attacks by “ecoterrorists” against research laboratories have set back years of valuable scientific research while also possibly damaging the reputation of legitimate environmental organizations. Two fires on Monday at research sites in Washington and Oregon destroyed laboratories conducting research on the genetic modification of trees. Some of the research was focused on making tress more commercially productive, as well as aiming to protect and restore tree species facing extinction so they could be brought back to the environment. These types of attacks are intolerable, especially as they hamper any possible environmental benefits coming from such studies.

Negative effects that could come from genetically modified organisms are entirely possible but have yet to be identified. There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about how tampering with nature could perhaps have an adverse effect on the environment and even humans. However, such concerns do not justify attacks on research sites that conduct scientific studies likely to benefit society, as well as protect and restore the environment.

At one of the targeted centers, the University of Washington Center of Urban Horticulture in Seattle, some research was conducted on a gene that could alter how trees grow branches. Such genetic manipulation, which could increase trees’ production of pulp and therefore their commercial production, has raised concerns about the negative impact it might pose on the environment. Ironically enough, most of the research at the site focused on restoring an endangered rare tree species and the fire destroyed most of the specimens grown in the lab, about one-third of the remaining tree population. In northwestern Oregon, two buildings and several vehicles belonging to a poplar tree nursery were destroyed. Although the farm used to be owned by companies developing genetically modified trees, current farm owners have said they do not create or grow such types of trees anymore.

In the past, our campus has experienced similar attacks that destroyed decades of valuable scientific research. Two years ago, the University suffered its most serious attack when the Animal Liberation Front – a militant, international animal-rights group – vandalized a dozen research labs and released more than 100 animals. The attack destroyed crucial research and inflicted $700,000 worth of equipment and property damage.

Attacks of this nature must end. The fires in Oregon and Seattle were attributed to the extremist Earth Liberation Front, an organization whose radical tactics unfortunately misrepresent the environmental movement and damages the reputation of organizations that use legal tactics to protest activities that might hurt the environment. As it happened with the Animal Liberation Front action two years ago, such terrorist acts cause more harm than good to society since they are often based on unfounded reasons that cannot be justified. Legitimate environmental organizations must insure they disassociate themselves from radical groups that could only damage the good cause for which they are fighting.