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Coming into Focus: Does Harvesting Wood for Bioenergy Impact Woodland Wildlife?
Two New Studies Look at How Harvesting Wood for Bioenergy Impacts Wildlife in Forests
By Lisa Monroe
Date Posted: 9/1/2016
Two New Studies Look at How Harvesting Wood for Bioenergy Impacts Wildlife in Forests.
Two recent studies by North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers looked at how harvesting woody biomass from forests for bioenergy affects the animals that live there.
The first study included in-depth research by former doctoral student Sarah Fritts, who spent four years inventorying mammals, reptiles and amphibians on clear cut loblolly plantations in North Carolina and Georgia.
She counted animals like toads, shrews, and rodents, concluding that there were no significant differences in wildlife impact based on the amount of biomass material that was removed, or whether debris left in the forest was piled or scattered.
Some states have guidelines as to how much woody debris should be left on forest floors after clear cutting, in an effort to conserve food and provide cover for wildlife. This can vary from 10-30%, with some guidelines also advising whether remaining debris should be scattered or piled.
Fritts’ research compared the control area where no woody debris was taken to areas harvested with no debris retention rules; and areas where 15% and 30% of debris was left on the ground scattered or in piles.
Another study by NCSU and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) concluded that decisions on how to meet bioenergy goals will require trade-offs regarding which wildlife species and ecosystems will be most impacted.
Researchers first developed models to translate bioenergy demand into projections of changes in the size and characteristics of ecosystems. Then they used the projected forest changes to model habitat gains and losses for 16 wildlife species.
“Because any mix of biomass sources is likely to benefit some species and harm others, it is important to identify which species are priorities for conservation so that policies can be designed to minimize negative impacts on those species,” said Matt Rubino, also a research associate at NCSU.
While the models used data from North Carolina, this work highlights a few general principles that need to be considered when evaluating the wildlife implications of bioenergy demand. Nathan Tarr, research associate in the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at NCSU, explained, “Species that inhabit newly regenerating forests may benefit from bioenergy demand while species that rely on a single, mature type of habitat – such as bottomland hardwood forests – are at risk if that type of habitat is harvested for bioenergy. Tarr added, “Bioenergy demand could exacerbate habitat loss for species that are losing habitat to urbanization, and species with small ranges deserve special consideration because they can be more sensitive to landscape changes related to bioenergy harvesting.
Visit https://news.ncsu.edu/2016/08/bioenergy-habitat-trade-offs-2016/ for more information.