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Ethanol Program Fuels Unintended Consequences for Wildlife

More than 7 million acres of wildlife habitat have been lost due to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard for ethanol. (Pixabay)
More than 7 million acres of wildlife habitat have been lost due to the federal Renewable Fuel Standard for ethanol. (Pixabay)
December 20, 2016

DENVER – U.S. farmers have plowed under more than seven million acres of wildlife habitat, mostly to grow corn needed to produce ethanol gasoline, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation.

David DeGennaro, an Agriculture Policy Specialist and the report's author, said the federal energy mandate passed by Congress in 2005 has put critical ecosystems at risk.

"And in Colorado, it requires 42.5 gallons per mile driven of water to produce a gallon of ethanol," he explained. "So it's a huge water consumption in a part of the country that really can't afford to be using this excess water."

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard requires plant-based ethanol to be blended into gasoline, and farmers responded in an effort to take advantage of rising commodity prices. DeGennaro said the destruction of native prairie, wetlands and forests happened in spite of a law meant to prohibit widespread land conversion because the EPA failed to enforce the rules.

Collin O'Mara, the Federation's president and CEO, said before the mandate about nine percent of corn went toward fuel, and today it is about 40 percent.

"Four out of every 10 bushels of corn that we grow in America are being used for fuel, not for food, not for export, but for fuel," he said. "It's forced folks to look for new places to grow corn, and the places that have been hit the hardest are wildlife habitat, most of which are very important to sportsmen."

O'Mara said row-farming has taken over important wildlife habitat, impacting waterfowl, monarch butterflies, bees and other pollinators, grassland nesting birds such as the prairie chicken, and mammals such as the swift fox.

"As we've seen this insatiable government-created demand increase and increase, wildlife and sportsman are the two that are losing out over and over again," he added. "This policy, while very well intentioned, has created just disastrous unintended consequences."

The report's recommendations call on Congress to revise the federal mandate to lower the demand for corn, and to repair some of the damage that has been done on the landscape.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO