Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Using native prairie plants for biofuels--a better deal for birds

Two articles about using native grasses for biofuels came my way recently. Both are worth reading. Here is one from an online journal, "Environmental Protection," where they refer to a new study documented in BioScience. The Nature Conservancy was involved with the study, which looked at the prevailing use of corn to make biofuels and its impact on grasslands and birds. The paper mentions the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands that are being lost now as producers are urged by corn and biofuel subsidies to grow corn on land that had recently been turned back into grass. Here is a quote from David Flaspohler, a researcher at the Michigan Technological University: "We are looking at trade-offs between producing a commodity for use as bioenergy and maintaining important ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water quality, and wildlife habitat. It was by ignoring unintended consequences that we've now found ourselves highly dependent on a non-renewable fuel source (fossil fuels) that is contributing to climate change. With some foresight and with information on key trade-offs, I think we can make wiser decisions in the future."

The second article is from Scientific American's website and it looks specifically at the potential for switchgrass to be used in biofuel production. As they point out, if the grass is mowed in fall, the breeding birds (switchgrass supports 19 species of native grassland birds)will have raised their young and left.

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