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 ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Energy
Part of the Sunoco Mariner East pipeline network in Pennsylvania. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

Another Sinkhole Opens Along Controversial Mariner East Pipeline Route

Sunoco's controversial Mariner East pipeline project in Pennsylvania is beginning 2019 on unstable ground, literally. A sinkhole opened in the suburban development of Lisa Drive in Chester County Sunday, exposing the old Mariner East 1 pipeline built in the 1930s.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Southwest Greenland had the most consistent ice loss from 2003 to 2012. Eqalugaarsuit, Ostgronland, Greenland on Aug. 1, 2018. Rob Oo / CC BY 2.0

Greenland Melting 4x Faster Than in 2013, and From an Unexpected Source

Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.

"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Seismic tests are a precursor to offshore drilling for oil and gas. BSEE

Judge Halts Seismic Testing Permits During Shutdown

Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.

The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Pxhere

DiCaprio-Funded Study: Staying Below 1.5ºC is Totally Possible

Climate change has been called the biggest challenge of our time. Last year, scientists with the United Nations said we basically have 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5ºC to avoid planetary catastrophe.

Amid a backdrop of rising global carbon emissions, there's a real case for pessimism. However, many scientists are hopeful of a way out.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Martin Luther King Jr. at steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963.

MLK Would Have Been an Environmental Leader, Too

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words and actions continue to resonate on the 90th anniversary of his birth.

As the country honors the life and legacy of the iconic civil rights leader today, we are reminded that the social justice and the climate movements are deeply connected.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A great tit family and nest. Bak GiSeok / 500px / Getty Images

Climate Change Leading to Fatal Bird Conflicts

By Marlene Cimons

Most Europeans know the great tit as an adorable, likeable yellow-and-black songbird that shows up to their feeders in the winter. But there may be one thing they don't know. That cute, fluffy bird can be a relentless killer.

The great tit's aggression can emerge in gruesome ways when it feels threatened by the pied flycatcher, a bird that spends most of the year in Africa, but migrates to Europe in the spring to breed. When flycatchers arrive at their European breeding grounds, they head for great tit territory, knowing that great tits—being year-round European residents—know the best nesting sites.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Brazil, Pantanal, water lilies. Nat Photos / DigitalVision / Getty Images Plus

Saving the World’s Largest Tropical Wetland

Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.

Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Demonstrators participate in a protest march over agricultural policy on Jan. 19 in Berlin, Germany. Carsten Koall / Getty Images Europe

35,000 Protestors in Berlin Call for Agricultural Revolution

By Andrea Germanos

Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!