Bioenergy and Wildlife: Threats and Opportunities for Grassland Conservation
Demand for land to grow corn for ethanol increased in the United States by 4.9 million hectares between 2005 and 2008, with wide-ranging effects on wildlife, including habitat loss. Depending on how biofuels are made, additional production could have similar impacts. We present a framework for assessing the impacts of biofuels on wildlife, and we use this framework to evaluate the impacts of existing and emerging biofuels feedstocks on grassland wildlife. Meeting the growing demand for biofuels while avoiding negative impacts on wildlife will require either biomass sources that do not require additional land (e.g., wastes, residues, cover crops, algae) or crop production practices that are compatible with wildlife. Diverse native prairie offers a potential approach to bioenergy production (including fuel, electricity, and heat) that is compatible with wildlife. Additional research is required to assess the compatibility of wildlife with different composition, inputs, and harvest management approaches, and to address concerns over prairie yields versus the yields of other biofuel crops.