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Rising Demand for Southeast Trees Endangers U.S. Wildlife and Biodiversity
The rapid development of woody biomass energy facilities in the Southeast U.S. has large implications for regional land cover and wildlife habitat, says a new study by three major Southern universities, released today by National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
The Southeastern U.S. is currently experiencing what is likely the world’s most rapid growth in the development of woody biomass energy facilities, with wood pellet exports from Southern ports increasing 70 percent last year—making the Southern U.S. the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world.
Forestry Bioenergy in the Southeast United States: Implications for Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity is a first-of-its-kind, landmark study which examines the potential wildlife and biodiversity impacts of this expanding industry and points to policy measures that may minimize impacts.
“The surge in demand for Southeast trees is being driven by government incentives—here and abroad—designed to encourage renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Julie Sibbing, senior director of agriculture and forestry programs at the NWF. “This study shows that wildlife like the brown-headed nuthatch and eastern spotted skunk are at risk from this rapidly growing industry if policies are not put in place to ensure more sustainable sourcing solutions.”
To help answer the question “How is biomass sourcing impacting wildlife and biodiversity?”, the NWF and the SELC commissioned an independent scientific study by a multi-disciplinary team from three major Southeastern land grant universities—University of Georgia, University of Florida and Virginia Tech.
“One of the biggest concerns raised by the report is escalating pressure for cutting bottomland hardwood forests," said David Carr, general counsel of SELC. "Locating facilities in the coastal plain dependent on forested wetlands raises major concerns regarding the impacts on birds, aquatic species and other wildlife associated with forested wetlands, which have declined dramatically over time."
"Despite claims to the contrary, Enviva is sourcing whole trees from forested wetlands to serve its Ahoskie, NC, facility and its two other facilities with overlapping sourcing areas—one in Northampton County, NC, and one in Southampton County, VA," Carr continued. "The study confirms that Enviva’s location and reliance on hardwoods is likely to have devastating impacts on wetlands and wildlife, particularly birds.”
The researchers analyzed land cover and determined areas of highest risk of harvesting around six facilities located in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, with sourcing areas stretching into Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. The researchers then applied various limits on biomass sourcing to evaluate how each scenario would overlap with habitat for several wildlife species of conservation concern.
Key findings from the study include:
- Major conservation concerns for biomass in the Southeast are land cover change away from existing natural forest stands into planted pines, harvesting in wetlands, and uncertain habitat impacts from increased use of residual logging materials.
- All of the operations studied have the potential to alter wildlife habitat and impact biodiversity in the absence of sustainable sourcing policies.
- For facilities using planted pine trees, risks to native forests and wildlife habitat can be decreased through adoption of existing sustainable forest management standards that preclude native forest conversion.
- Sourcing of natural forest stands for bioenergy may pose more serious conservation challenges. Increased harvest of riparian and other wetland forests for bioenergy may pose especially high risks to wildlife habitat and forest regeneration. New sustainability policies may be needed to ensure conservation of wetland forest habitats under increasing bioenergy sourcing pressure.
The study points to several existing sustainability programs that could be the basis for wildlife-protective sourcing policies. These include the Forest Stewardship Council forest management certification and certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. The study points out, however, that there are no current policies that require such sustainability standards to be used.
“Without sustainable sourcing criteria, increased bioenergy sourcing in Southeast forests could exacerbate historic practices such as conversion of natural upland forests to planted pines and intensive logging of forested wetlands,” said Jason Evans, environmental sustainability analyst at University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. “These practices are known to have negative impacts on a number of wildlife species."
"However, regular thinning of existing planted pines for bioenergy use could also improve habitat conditions for some species of concern, such as the northern bobwhite quail," Evans continued. "The methods and results of this study provide guidance for up front evaluation of such risks and opportunities as new bioenergy facilities are being planned across the region.”
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst
Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.
Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.
Spider Plant<p>Spider plants are one of the best plants you can buy for increasing indoor humidity, according to <a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">research</a> from 2015.</p><p>Even NASA agrees. It did a <a href="https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> in the '80s that found spider plants are able to remove toxins like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from indoor air.</p><p>Perhaps the coolest part of all? They're super easy to grow.</p><p>Their stems grow long. A hanging container is best so the plant has room to cascade.</p><p>Spider plants grow best in bright, indirect sunlight, so try to keep them near a window that gets a lot of natural light. Aim to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.</p>
Jade Plant<p><a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">Research</a> shows that a jade plant can increase the relative humidity in a room. Most of its evapotranspiration happens in the dark, making it a good option for increasing humidity during darker months of the year.</p><p>To help keep a jade plant thriving, keep it in a bright spot, like near a south-facing window. As for watering, how much you give it depends on the time of the year.</p><p>The spring and summer is its active growing time, so you'll want to water it deeply, and wait till the soil is almost dry to water it again.</p><p>In the fall and winter, growing slows or stops, so you can let the soil dry completely before watering again.</p>
Areca Palm<p>Palms tend to be great for adding humidity, and the areca palm — also called the butterfly or yellow palm — is no exception.</p><p>They're relatively low maintenance, but they do require lots of sun and moist soil. Keep them near a window that gets a lot of sunlight. Water them enough to keep their soil moist, especially in the spring and summer.</p><p>They can grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and don't like crowded roots, so you'll need to repot it every couple of years as it grows.<span></span></p>
English Ivy<p>English ivy (<em>Hedera helix</em>) is easy to care for and gives you a lot of bang for your buck because it grows like crazy.</p><p>It's also been <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-018-0618-9" target="_blank">shown</a> to have one of the highest transpiration rates. This makes it a good option for increasing relative humidity AND removing carbon monoxide from indoor air.</p><p>A hanging basket is best for this small-leafed ivy. It'll grow as long and lush as you let it. To keep it controlled, just prune to the size you want.</p><p>English ivy likes bright light and soil that's slightly dry. Check the soil to make sure it's almost dry before watering again.</p>
Lady Palm<p>The lady palm is a dense plant that's low maintenance when it comes to sunlight and water needs.</p><p>It does best in bright light, but is adaptable enough to grow in low-light spots, too, though at a slightly slower pace.</p><p>Lady palms like to be watered thoroughly once the surface is dry to the touch, so always check the soil before watering.</p>
Rubber Plant<p>The rubber plant isn't as finicky as other indoor tropical plants, making it really easy to care for. Rubber plants also have a high transpiration rate and are great for helping clean indoor air.</p><p>Rubber plants like partial sun to partial shade. They can handle cooler temps and drier soil (perfect for people who tend to kill every plant they bring into the home).</p><p>Let the soil dry before watering again. In the fall and winter months, you'll be able to cut watering in half.</p>
Boston Fern<p>The Boston fern has air-purifying properties that add moisture and remove toxins from indoor air. Did we mention they're lush and gorgeous, too?</p><p>To keep a Boston fern healthy and happy, water it often enough so the soil is always moist, and make sure it gets a lot of indirect sunlight by placing it in a bright part of the room.</p><p>Occasionally misting the fern's leaves with a spray bottle of water can help keep it perky when you have the heat blasting or fireplace going.</p>
Peace Lily<p>Peace lilies are tropical evergreens that produce a white flower in the summer. They usually grow up to around 16 inches tall, but can grow longer in the right conditions.</p><p>A peace lily feels most at home in a room that's warm and gets a lot of sunlight. It takes its soil moist.</p><p>No need to stress if you forget to water it on occasion. It'll handle that better than being overwatered.</p><p>If you have cats, you'll want to keep this plant out of reach or avoid it. Lilies are <a href="https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/lily" target="_blank">toxic</a> to our feline friends.</p>
Golden Pothos<p>Golden pothos is also called devil's ivy and devil's vine because it's pretty much impossible to kill. You can forget to water it and even forget to give it light for long periods, and it'll still be green whenever you finally remember.</p><p>That said, it thrives in brighter spaces and does like some water. Let it dry out between watering.</p><p>Its trailing stems grow as long as you want it to, so it's perfect for hanging planters or setting on a higher shelf.</p><p>The higher the better if you have pets, though, since some of its compounds are toxic to dogs and cats… and horses, if you happen to live in a big apartment with really relaxed pet rules.</p>
Dwarf Date Palm<p>Dwarf date palms are also called pygmy date palms. They're perfect as far as plants go. They're basically mini versions of the palm trees you see on tropical postcards.</p><p>They can help keep a room's air clean and increase humidity, and are super easy to maintain.</p><p>They can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall with bright, indirect sunlight and moist — not soaking wet — soil.</p><p>They also prefer a slightly toasty environment, so avoid placing them near a drafty window or source of cold.</p>
Corn Plant<p>The corn plant won't give you an endless supply of corn — just leaves that look like corn leaves and the occasional bloom if you treat it nice. It also helps humidify indoor air and remove toxic vapors.</p><p>Maintenance is easy. Let the top inch or so of soil dry before watering, and keep in a well-lit room where it can get a good amount of indirect sunlight.</p>
Parlor Palm<p>This is another high-transpiration palm that doesn't take any real skill to grow. You're welcome.</p><p>Parlor palms like partial sun, but can manage in full shade, too, as long as you keep the soil consistently moist with a couple of waterings per week.</p><p>To help it grow, make sure it's got enough space in the pot by sizing up every year or two, or whenever it starts to look crowded.</p>
Plants to Avoid<p>Plants are generally good for your environment, but some do have the opposite effect when it comes to humidity.</p><p>These plants tend to draw moisture <em>in</em> instead of letting it out. This doesn't happen instantly, and a couple of plants won't have enough of an effect to really zap the moisture out of your home.</p><p>Still, if you're looking for maximum moisture, you may want to limit these.</p><p>Plants that fall into this category are those that require very little water to survive. Think plants that you find in dry climates, like the desert.</p><p>These include plants like:</p><ul><li>cactuses</li><li>succulents</li><li>aloe vera</li><li>euphorbia, also called "spurge"</li></ul>
Pro Tips<p>If you really want to take advantage of all the moisture and purification these plants offer, here are some tips to consider:</p><ul><li><strong>Size matters.</strong> Plants with bigger leaves typically have a higher transpiration rate, so go bigger to humidify and purify a room.</li><li><strong>The more the merrier.</strong> Have at least two good-sized plants per 100 square feet of space — more is even better.</li><li><strong>Keep 'em close.</strong> Group your plants closer together to increase the humidity in the air and help your plants thrive, too.</li><li><strong>Add pebbles.</strong> If you're dealing with dry indoor air, put your plants on a pebble tray with water to create more humidity for your plants <em>and</em> your room.</li></ul>
The Bottom Line<p>If you're looking to combat dry air in your home and have some space, consider stocking up on some houseplants. Just keep in mind that this is one area where less definitely isn't more.</p><p>For a noticeable impact on the air in your home, try to have at least several plants in each room. If you only have room for a few plants, try to go for larger ones with big leaves.</p>
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