Assessing the Impact of Ecological Considerations on Forest Biomass Projections for the Southeastern U.S.
With rising energy prices and the growing concern over climate change and other environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels, alternative energy sources are being sought throughout the world. Although biofuels have been heralded as one of the most promising alternative energy sources for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, others have cautioned that its widespread development could have significant negative consequences for biodiversity and could exacerbate many other environmental problems, including soil degradation, air pollution, and decreases in water quality. Rapid development of biomass as an energy alternative without careful consideration of adverse environmental effects might help achieve some climate change abatement goals, but could also devastate important biological and ecological values. Existing projections of available forest biomass resources have not adequately taken ecological values into consideration. These values must not be damaged or destroyed if biomass energy is to achieve long-term sustainability.
The southeastern United States is an internationally important timber-producing region, and also supports some of the most biologically rich and diverse areas in North America. There is much interest in developing forest biomass resources there, but little information is available on the effect that biomass extraction would have on the valuable ecological resources of the region. At the request of the Natural Resources Defense Council, we assessed the potential effect that administrative and ecological restrictions could have on forest biomass available for biofuel development in the southeastern U.S. These values included existing protected areas, Forest Service and BLM lands, steep slopes, designated critical habitat for federally listed endangered species, inventoried roadless areas, old-growth forests, wetlands, and freshwater and coastal buffers. Accounting for these effects is an initial step towards reducing the environmental impact and risk to important conservation values as biomass development planning and implementation moves ahead.