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Grasslands Replaced by Biofuel Crops, Wildlife Affected


grasslandBiofuels may be better for the environment than fossil fuels, but the hunt for profit destroys grasslands and pastures in the U.S. and affects wildlife.

This is the conclusion of a study led by Christopher Wright and Michael Wimberly from South Dakota State University in Brookings. The two pulled their conclusions by analyzing satellite imagery of five western U.S. states where corn is grown (“the corn belt”).

Now corn may be competing with food directly, but grass isn’t, is it? More than half a million hectares of grassland have been substituted by maize and soya beans between 2006 and 2011. South Dakota and Iowa lost about 5 percent of their grassland per year.

The fact that grasslands are more useful for something else than their beautiful landscape and their carbon-capturing properties is one thing, but now the researchers found that growing something else instead will disturb the local ground-nesting birds, such as the wildfowl duck, hence affecting the ecosystem directly and indirectly.

“Half of North American ducks breed here,” says Wright.

Moreover, last year’s drought seems to have wiped off most of the corn planted for biofuels in the area. Bill Henwood from the Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative in Vancouver, Canada, is against swapping grasslands for biofuel crops and says that “exchanging real environmental impacts for the dubious benefits of biofuels is counterproductive.”

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