Though the use of biomass for heat and fuel production is not new in the United States, there has been a renewed interest in bioenergy production in response to increasing energy costs, dependence on foreign oil, greenhouse gases and climate change. Recent legislation has reflected this demand. For example, the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (110 P.L. 140) raised the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS-2) to require biofuels blending (with gasoline) of 36 billion gallons per year by 2022 of which 21 million are supposed to come from non-corn based sources. The northern Great Plains holds some of the greatest potential for the production of cellulosic biomass, but the region is also critical for wildlife producing 50-80% of waterfowl populations and providing breeding habitat for more than half of the bird species that breed in North America.
The Best Management Guidelines (BMGs) presented in this document were developed through a process that involved an advisory group of natural resource professionals with expertise in agronomy, production aspects of energy crops, wildlife (amphibians, birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles), and native ecosystems. The following guiding principles helped define the uses and limitations of the BMGs:
- Integrate considerations that address biodiversity as an integral part of bioenergy sustainability
- Incorporate biodiversity when switchgrass or native warm-season grass mixes are established on marginally productive cropland (i.e., no conversion of native sod, wetlands, etc., is assumed).
- Provide a basis for development of site-specific practices that are tailored to local situations
- Balance environmental sustainability and the needs of production economics
- Must be feasible to adopt and include profit potential
- Intended for use by the bioenergy industry and biomass producers
- Although designed for the Prairie Pothole Region, the BMGs should be useful in adjacent geographies within the Northern Great Plains and elsewhere
We selected two feedstocks – switchgrass and a 3-species mix of big bluestem, indiangrass, and sideoats grama – that are currently the focus of collaborative efforts funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a Midwestern regional system for producing advanced transportation fuels derived from perennial grasses. We designed guidelines to focus on the establishment, management, and harvesting implications of these two feedstocks on wildlife and their associated habitats (i.e., food, water, cover, and space). Effects on grassland songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and aquatic resources are discussed.
Wildlife management is inherently complex. The effects of bioenergy production on wildlife will depend on the combination of several factors that influence both the wildlife and the habitat. Managers and producers will need to consider the feedstock being planted, the surrounding habitat, the habitat being replaced, the method of establishment, how intensively it’s managed, what inputs (herbicides, fertilizers, etc.) are being used, how much area the feedstock occupies, how it is maintained and harvested as well as the timing of those operations, the type of wildlife (e.g., generalist versus specialist species) under consideration, the specific habitat requirements of target wildlife species, and the availability of essential habitat components seasonally, yearly, and spatially. However, some generalizations can be made that are beneficial to many wildlife species while still encompassing the needs of producers and industry. Our team of experts have developed these Best Management Guidelines (BMGs) to integrate wildlife production and diversity as a component of sustainable bioenergy production in the northern Great Plains.