Quantcast
Energy

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.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Rice University marine biologist Adrienne Correa takes samples at a reef in Flower Garden Banks. Jesse Cancelmo / Rice University

Hurricane Harvey Runoff Threatens Coral Reefs

Hurricane Harvey's record rains didn't just unleash a torrent of floodwaters into the Gulf of Mexico—this freshwater could be harming coral reefs which require saltwater to live, according to new research.

After Harvey dumped more than 13 trillion gallons of rain over southeast Texas, researchers detected a 10 percent drop in salinity at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located 100 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

Keep reading... Show less

Pruitt Wants to Make the EPA Less Accountable to the Public

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) breaks the law by missing deadlines, allowing polluters to violate regulations that protect our health and environment, one way the public holds it accountable is by taking the agency to court. Scott Pruitt and his corporate polluter allies see this as a problem, so Monday, the administrator moved to curtail the agency's practice of settling lawsuits with outside groups, making it easier to skirt the law.

"Pruitt's doing nothing more than posturing about a nonexistent problem and political fiction," John Walke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air program said in reaction. "His targeting of legal settlements, especially where EPA has no defense to breaking the law, will just allow violations to persist, along with harms to Americans."

Keep reading... Show less
Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Julie Dermansky

Nearly 400,000 Gallons of Oil Spews Into Gulf of Mexico, Could Be Largest Spill Since Deepwater Horizon

Last week, a pipe owned by offshore oil and gas operator LLOG Exploration Company, LLC spilled up to 393,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reminding many observers of the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that spewed approximately 210 million gallons of crude into familiar territory.

Now, a report from Bloomberg suggests that the LLOG spill could be the largest in the U.S. since the 2010 BP blowout, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

Keep reading... Show less
Shutterstock

Big Food Is Worried About Millennials Avoiding Animal Products

By Nathan Runkle

Hundreds of leaders from fast-food chains, marketing agencies and poultry production companies recently gathered in North Carolina for the 2017 Chicken Marketing Summit to play golf and figure out how to make you eat more animals.

One session focused on marketing chicken to millennials. Richard Kottmeyer, a senior managing partner at Fork to Farm Advisory Services, explained to the crowd that millennials are "lost" and need to be "inspired and coached." His reasoning? Because there are now "58 ways to gender identify on Facebook." Also, because most millennial women take nude selfies, the chicken industry needs to be just as "naked" and transparent.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

Strange Days: Ex-Hurricane Ophelia Batters Ireland Under Orange Skies

By Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

Ex-Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland hard with full hurricane-like fury on Monday, bringing powerful winds that caused widespread damage and power outages. At least two deaths have been reported from trees falling on cars, and The Irish Times said at least 360,000 ESB Networks customers lost power in Ireland because of the storm.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
PBouman / Shutterstock

EPA Limits Use of Problematic Herbicide Dicamba—But Is That Enough?

By Dan Nosowitz

Dicamba has been in use as a local pesticide for decades, but it's only recently that Monsanto has taken to using it in big, new ways. The past two years have seen the rollout of dicamba-resistant seed for soybean and cotton, as well as a new way to apply it: broad spraying.

But dicamba, it turns out, has a tendency to vaporize and drift with the wind, and it if lands on a farm that hasn't planted Monsanto's dicamba-resistant seed, the pesticide will stunt and kill crops in a very distinctive way, with a telltale cupping and curling of leaves, as seen above. Drift from dicamba has affected millions of acres of crops, prompting multiple states to issue temporary bans on the pesticide. Farmers have been taking sides, either pro-dicamba or anti, and at least one farmer has been killed in a dispute over its use.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Runoff from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm. Lynn Betts / U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Drinking Water for Millions in Rural America Contaminated With Suspected Carcinogen

Drinking water supplies for millions of Americans in farm country are contaminated with a suspected cancer-causing chemical from fertilizer, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.

The contaminant is nitrate, which gets into drinking water sources when chemical fertilizer or manure runs off poorly protected farm fields. Nitrate contaminates drinking water for more than 15 million people in 49 states, but the highest levels are found in small towns surrounded by row-crop agriculture. Major farm states where the most people are at risk include California, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kansas.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

Trump's Approval Rating on Hurricane Response Sinks 20 Points After Puerto Rico

President Trump's approval rating for overseeing the federal government's response to hurricanes fell by 20 points after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, a CNN poll conducted by SSRS revealed.

Trump's approval rating for responding to hurricanes Harvey and Irma stood at 64 percent in mid-September. Just a month later, the rating dropped to 44 percent.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox