A visit to switchgrass? trial plots run by Iowa State University researchers; near Ames, IA. Photo by CL Williams, 2010.
Fish and wildlife management is the process of keeping animal populations at desirable levels. A major goal of fish and wildlife managers, whether public or private, is maintenance of healthy animal populations for a number of human interests and concerns. These interests and concerns include providing sport hunting and fishing, maintaining non-game species, protecting and restoring endangered species populations, and providing opportunities for non-consumptive uses of wildlife such as bird-watching. Application of the ecological principles of wildlife science is necessary for attaining these goals. That is, successfully managing animal populations depends on appropriate management of their habitats - the plant communities and physical environments they depend on, and ecosystems – the assemblages of plant and animal species that are interdependent on one another. One of the greatest challenges to fish and wildlife management is the ability to recognize and adapt to environmental change, fluctuating socioeconomic conditions, and shifts in societal values. Growth and development of bioenergy? in Wisconsin represents challenges to fish and wildlife management in all three of these arenas. Bioenergy also presents potential opportunities for fish and wildlife managers, farmers, and the bioenergy industry to work together toward shared goals and mutually beneficial outcomes.
Addressing fish and wildlife habitat needs at the farm level is one tool in a multi-tactic approach to habitat management. Farm-level soil and nutrient conservation practices are typically addressed through farm management plans – some of which are required for state and federal programs, and adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs). Farm-level habitat management, however, is typically achieved through voluntary actions (see for example, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Office of Wildlife Management, Wildlife and Your land series). Production of perennial herbaceous biomass? feedstocks for bioenergy could boost fish and wildlife management goals in at least two ways. Firstly, perennial crops such as switchgrass? tend to provide more benefits to fish and wildlife than conventional row crops grown at the same location – for example, via improved water quality. This is particularly so when perennial crops are grown in diverse mixtures rather than monocultures of a single plant species grown over a large area. Additionally, grassland mixtures grown as bioenergy feedstocks tend to require fewer inputs of fertilizer and pesticides compared to monocultures, and hence may have fewer negative impacts on fish and wildlife as a result. Secondly, crop diversification within and among farms is associated with increased biodiversity at farm and landscape levels, which in turn is associated with benefits to fish and wildlife and the ecosystems upon which animal species depend.
A key to linking fish and wildlife habitat benefits with bioenergy is management of perennial biomass crops in ways that are compatible with fish and wildlife goals while also being economically, agronomically and technologically feasible for farmers. As a bottom line, farmers must be able to maintain their profitability while producing perennial biomass crops. One way to potentially encourage fish- and wildlife-friendly management of bioenergy crops while minding the profit bottom line is creation of third-party sustainability certification and creation of markets for certified sustainably-grown biomass. Such programs have a proven track record in food production and add value to farm production. Such programs are gaining popularity in the European Union, and are being introduced in the U.S. (see the Council on Sustainable Biomass Production).
As biomass markets emerge, fish and wildlife managers and farmers alike will be looking for innovative ways to achieve multiple goals while also providing a reliable flow of feedstock to bioenergy projects.
In addition to the genetic, species and ecosystem variability of crops and cropping systems in agriculture, agricultural landscapes can conserve a broad range of native terrestrial and aquatic species and functions – especially those that are well adapted to fragmentation. Conservation of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes depends in large part on the amount of fragmentation and connectivity of natural areas and the quality of those areas. Biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes also depends on the habitat quality of cropping systems themselves (e.g., monocultures versus polycultures or permacultures), and the degree to which farmers manage their land for conservation of biodiversity. From the standpoint of fish and wildlife diversity conservation, agricultural landscapes should mimic the structure and function of natural ecosystems. In the context of bioenergy, use of new and improved perennial crops, and linking grass-fed livestock production with bioenergy cropping, for e.g., could improve biodiversity conservation and management goals.
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