Growing Risk for Taxpayers and Wildlife
National conservation group urges precaution on cultivating invasive plants for bioenergy
Mékell Mikell, Ph.D.
Good biofuel crops can make great invasive species. That’s one of the findings of a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation. Growing Risk: Addressing the Invasive Potential of Bioenergy Feedstocks explores the challenges and policy solutions surrounding the use of non-native and potentially invasive bioenergy crops. Numerous non-native and genetically modified species are already being considered for use as biomass feedstocks. Growing these plants may appear to be a great source of homegrown renewable energy, but without proper precaution, producers run the risk of unleashing the next big invasive species catastrophe that could devastate native ecosystems, deplete scarce water resources and require significant resources to control.
“Invasive species cost taxpayers billions of dollars every year and put ecosystems and wildlife at risk,” said Aviva Glaser, legislative representative for agriculture policy for the National Wildlife Federation. “As bioenergy development moves forward, it is critical that feedstocks are chosen with care. Proper caution must be taken to minimize the risk of invasion and ensure that the next generation of bioenergy does not fuel the next invasive species problem.”
Growing Risk profiles six potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks. Giant reed, for example, was introduced into North American agriculture nearly two centuries ago with good intentions. Unfortunately, the fast growing grass quickly became a highly invasive nuisance in states from California to South Carolina. Today, this water-hogging invasive species is hard to control, out-competes native plants, threatens wildlife, and strains local ecosystems and taxpayer wallets. Despite its track record, giant reed is now being considered as a potential crop for bioenergy production in at least three states.
“Bioenergy can be an important part of our nation’s clean energy future,” said Patty Glick, senior climate change specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. “However, producers and policymakers need to assess the risks and unintended consequences that come from using non-native biomass rather than rushing full speed ahead without considering potential consequences.”
Growing Risk also highlights the gaps in current laws that fail to prevent the costly spread of invasive plants or pay for control and eradication once invasions occur. The report points to the importance of balancing America’s energy needs with the country’s ecological needs through key policy recommendations. They include reducing and minimizing the risk of invasive bioenergy crops by strengthening monitoring programs and policies and encouraging ecosystem restoration to improve wildlife habitat through future bioenergy development.
“You can make money and a help native wildlife by growing native plants for bioenergy,” said Steve Flick, chairman of the board for the Show Me Energy Cooperative. “Missouri farmers are doing this right now as part of the Show Me Energy Cooperative, and it’s a model that can work throughout the country.”
For more information on preventing bioenergy crops from becoming invasive, read Growing Risk: Addressing the Invasive Potential of Bioenergy Feedstocks.