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Fish, Wildlife, and Bioenergy: The Opportunities

A heavily stocked pine plantation (left) and a recently thinned and burned, wildlife-friendly pine stand (right).

ASSOCIATION OF FISH & WILDLIFE AGENCIES

Fish, wildlife, and the habitats they depend on not only enrich our lives, they support our economy as well. Every year, outdoor recreation contributes US$887 billion to the US economy and supports 7.6 million jobs—1 in 20 of all US jobs. Hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation alone generates US$93.4 billion per year in America.

But fish and wildlife—and the outdoor economy they help support—are at risk. The biggest threat to fish and wildlife is habitat loss. Some habitats—such as longleaf pine savannas in the Southeastern US and tallgrass prairie in the Midwest—have declined by 98 percent or more. The most significant habitat losses are in the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, and California, which are also areas with high biomass potential.

Bioenergy production from existing native plant communities offers some of the best opportunities to help meet US energy goals while preserving fish and wildlife. With deliberate planning and the assistance of state fish and wildlife agencies and other conservation partners, the following win-win solutions can be employed with great success.

FORESTS
Many forest types contain a wealth of small-diameter woody plants that could be selectively removed to enhance forest health while improving habitat for priority wildlife. In the Southeastern US, biomass harvest can be part of pine savanna restoration. In the Western US, woody debris creates considerable wildfire risk, but focusing on technology and innovation to sustainably manage Western forests could reduce wildfire risk and provide huge amounts of woody biomass.

GRASSLANDS
Of the 170 million acres of tallgrass prairie that once existed in North America, only 4 percent is left. Further west, conversion of mixedgrass and shortgrass prairies to agriculture is ongoing, with 770,000 acres converted from 1997-2007. Using highly productive native grasses as feedstocks in grassland landscapes is an opportunity to meet needs for bioenergy and wildlife. For example, the very first Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project area included 39 counties in Kansas and Missouri with a focus on planting native grasses and forbs. Native grass and forb plantings are also attractive to landowners because they can be used for livestock forage if biomass production exceeds market demand.

Using native grasses as a bioenergy feedstock can both support wildlife and produce significant biomass. Using different species of grass instead of planting a monoculture can increase wildlife benefits. Adding native flowers and legumes to a feedstock planting provides the best habitat.

INVASIVE SPECIES REMOVAL
There are many examples in the US where native ecosystems are invaded by aggressive plants, such as juniper encroachment on prairies and kudzu throughout the Southeast. Invasive species cause an estimated US$120 billion in losses and damages per year in the US. Invasive species are also a contributing factor in more than 400 threatened or endangered species listings in the US.

Harvest and use of these unwanted plants could benefit fish, wildlife, and their native habitats. But, it is important that the focus be on reduction/eradication and does not lead to expanded distribution of destructive plants.

DISASTER & WASTE MATERIALS
Each year, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought, and other natural disaster events damage neighborhoods and affect native habitats. In cities and towns, yard waste is generated in huge amounts and much of it continues to be discarded. To make the most efficient use of our natural resources, it makes sense to use readily available sources where possible before placing more land into production. Increasing investment in mobile conversion processes could yield dividends by allowing processing to go wherever biomass becomes available.

RIGHTS-OF-WAY
Utility, highway, and other rights-of-way (ROW) require management. Some ROWs are broad, easily accessible, and could produce biomass consistently and safely. Planting and managing ecologically friendly native biomass could help meet energy goals and reduce ROW maintenance costs.

Contact your state fish and wildlife agency to learn more about win-win opportunities for bioenergy and wildlife.

References:
• Bill McGuire. 2012. Assessment of the Bioenergy Provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington, DC, pgs 17-23.
• Outdoor Industry Association. 2017. The Outdoor Recreation Economy. Boulder, CO. USA. 20 pp.

This article offers perspectives from the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies on integrating fish and wildlife conservation with bioenergy production. Learn more at
bit.ly/FishWildlifeBioenergy. Founded in 1902, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies represents North America’s fish and wildlife agencies to advance science-based management and conservation of species and their habitats for the public’s long-term benefit and use. www.fishwildlife.org

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