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Projected gains and losses of wildlife habitat from bioenergy-induced landscape change

November 23, 2016

Domestic and foreign renewable energy targets and financial incentives have increased demand for woody biomass and bioenergy in the southeastern United States. This demand is expected to be met through purpose-grown agricultural bioenergy crops, short-rotation tree plantations, thinning and harvest of planted and natural forests, and forest harvest residues. With results from a forest economics model, spatially explicit state-and-transition simulation models, and species–habitat models, we projected change in habitat amount for 16 wildlife species caused by meeting a renewable fuel target and expected demand for wood pellets in North Carolina, USA. We projected changes over 40 years under a baseline ‘business-as-usual’ scenario without bioenergy production and five scenarios with unique feedstock portfolios. Bioenergy demand had potential to influence trends in habitat availability for some species in our study area. We found variation in impacts among species, and no scenario was the ‘best’ or ‘worst’ across all species. Our models projected that shrub-associated species would gain habitat under some scenarios because of increases in the amount of regenerating forests on the landscape, while species restricted to mature forests would lose habitat. Some forest species could also lose habitat from the conversion of forests on marginal soils to purpose-grown feedstocks. The conversion of agricultural lands on marginal soils to purpose-grown feedstocks increased habitat losses for one species with strong associations with pasture, which is being lost to urbanization in our study region. Our results indicate that landscape-scale impacts on wildlife habitat will vary among species and depend upon the bioenergy feedstock portfolio. Therefore, decisions about bioenergy and wildlife will likely involve trade-offs among wildlife species, and the choice of focal species is likely to affect the results of landscape-scale assessments. We offer general principals to consider when crafting lists of focal species for bioenergy impact assessments at the landscape scale.