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New Research: Ethanol, Biofuel Mandate Exacerbates Challenges Facing Imperiled Wildlife

Conversion to Cropland, Water Quality Declines Linked to Drivers of Endangered Species Act Listings

Washington, D.C. — Newly published, peer-reviewed research highlights how the ongoing implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard could hasten the decline of species and increase the probability of Endangered Species Act listings. The journal article, by University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Tyler Lark and published in the journal Biological Conservation, is the latest peer-reviewed research to show the immense and acute impact of corn ethanol and other biofuels on people, wildlife, water, and the climate.

“These rigorously vetted findings underscore the threat that corn-ethanol and biofuels pose to people and wildlife alike,” said David DeGennaro, senior climate and biofuel specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. “The Endangered Species Act has been one of the most effective conservation laws of the past half-century, but the best way to recover species is to address challenges before they decline to the point of requiring a listing. The Environmental Protection Agency should reassess how it implements the Renewable Fuel Standard and halt the conversion of wetlands, grasslands, and other vital wildlife habitats before it’s too late.”

The journal article’s takeaways include: 

  • Land use changes associated with corn ethanol are likely hurting imperiled wildlife; alternative biofuels could reduce or even reverse this harm
  • The Environmental Protection Agency should be required to consult with the federal wildlife agencies during rulemakings to mitigate risks to threatened and endangered species
  • Addressing and fixing biofuel production’s impacts on wildlife will also help address the ongoing wildlife crisis and improve water quality and soil health

“Overall, the RFS-ESA connections and opportunities identified here could spur significant positive outcomes for wildlife and society by encouraging collaboration among the involved stakeholders and providing a framework for action,” the peer-reviewed journal article concluded. “Any such actions might not only achieve meaningful strides in conservation directly but also establish the procedural and political precedents needed to further advance species' survival and recovery.”

Lark is a widely respected scientific researcher. He was the lead author of a peer-reviewed article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences last year that revealed that the Renewable Fuel Standard artificially inflated corn prices by 30 percent between 2008 and 2016, made ethanol one-quarter more carbon intensive than gasoline, and increased annual fertilizer use by up to 8 percent — which polluted waterways and fueled toxic algal outbreaks.


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