NWF peer-reviewed study finds strong link between ethanol refineries and wildlife habitat conversion

March 21, 2017 |

In Minnesota, millions of acres of wildlife habitat are being lost to crop production, according to a new peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, which found a strong link between the location of corn ethanol refineries and the conversion of wildlife habitat and other land types into crop production. In total, researchers found that more than 4 million acres had been converted to agricultural production within a 100-mile radius of ethanol plants between 2008 and 2012, the years immediately following passage of a federal mandate to produce ethanol to be blended into gasoline.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Wisconsin, and the National Wildlife Federation assessed satellite imagery and land classification data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine conversion rates from non-farmland into farmland in the years following passage of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, the federal mandate to blend corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels into gasoline. The study builds on a previously published analysis by researchers at the University of Wisconsin that found 7 million acres nationwide were converted to crop production during the same period, and that corn was the most common crop planted after conversion.

The results show that grasslands and other habitats closest to ethanol plants suffered the highest rates of conversion to crop production, and that conversion rates declined as the distance from ethanol plants increased. The loss of millions of acres of wildlife habitat occurred despite a section in the Renewable Fuel Standard that prohibits fuel from crops produced on converted land from being used to comply with the blending requirement.

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Category: Fuels

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