Thursday, October 01, 2009

Biofuel boom reducing wildlife habitat, study finds

Increased investment in crop-based biofuels may be leading to the loss of wildlife habitat, researchers from Michigan Technological University and The Nature Conservancy report. They say one potential solution is using diverse, native, prairie plants to produce bioenergy.

“There are ways to grow biofuel that are more benign,” said David Flaspohler, a Michigan Tech associate professor and author of the study. “Our advice would be to think broadly and holistically about the approach you use to solve a problem and to carefully consider its potential long-term impacts.” A government mandate to produce 136 billion liters of biofuel by 2022 is causing land-use change "on a scale not seen since virgin prairies were plowed and enormous swaths of the country’s forests were first cut down to grow food crops," Michigan Tech reports. the study suggests using biomass like agricultural residues that don't require added crop land or growing native perennials such as switchgrass and big bluestem to create biofuel.

The researchers acknowledge their proposed plans return smaller yields than corn, but Flaspohler says that trade off is necessary: "It was by ignoring unintended consequences that we’ve now found ourselves highly dependent on a non-renewable fuel source that is contributing to climate change. With some foresight and with information on key trade-offs, I think we can make wiser decisions in the future."

While most crop expansion to grow the corn needed for the biofuel revolution is taking place on land that was already farmed, researchers say there is growing evidence that land from Conservation Reserve Program, which pays rent to landowners who convert their agricultural land to natural grasslands or tree cover, is being converted to crop production. (Read more)

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