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Report: Biofuels Policy Has Led to Wildlife Habitat Destruction

A new report says 66,000 acres of uncultivated Oregon prairie land was converted to grow crops used in biofuels. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
A new report says 66,000 acres of uncultivated Oregon prairie land was converted to grow crops used in biofuels. (Bureau of Land Management/Flickr)
December 19, 2016

PENDLETON, Ore. – Millions of acres of wildlife habitat have been destroyed to make way for corn and soybeans used to produce ethanol and biodiesel under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.

Now a National Wildlife Federationreport, "Fueling Destruction," details how the federal policy led to the conversion of previously uncultivated land to grow crops used in bio-fuels, endangering wildlife and water supplies along the way.

Report author David DeGennaro, an NWF agriculture policy specialist, says Oregon wasn't spared from this destruction.

"Oregon isn't thought of as corn country or the heart of the farm belt, but it still saw a fair share of conversion – about 66,000 acres, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin,” he relates. “That's an area about the size of 50,000 football fields."

DeGennaro says most of the conversion was concentrated within the north-central part of the state, with pockets along the southern border.

The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to reduce the country's reliance on oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions. But critics say the government has failed to enforce habitat protections in the law.

NWF President Collin O'Mara points out that between 2008 and 2012, more than 7.3 million acres across America were converted into cropland. That greatly reduced available habitat for grassland nesting birds, including the greater sage grouse and waterfowl that Oregon bird hunters depend on.

"As we've seen this insatiable government-created demand increase and increase, wildlife and sportsmen are the two that are losing out, over and over again,” O’Mara states. “This policy, while very well intentioned, has just created disastrous unintended consequences."

DeGennaro says although cutting greenhouse gas emissions wasn't the main part of this report, Oregon voters have prioritized it in recent elections. He says two government reports show the Renewable Fuel Standard is missing the mark on its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

"So, the time is really right, and I think people in Oregon understand that we need a cleaner fuel supply, a more diverse fuel supply,” he states. “And the program that we have isn't getting us there."

The report recommends that the federal government lower the Renewable Fuel Standard and prioritize more advanced fuel crops, such as switchgrass, that require less water and work well as wildlife habitat.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR