Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prairie Biofuels Not Good For Birds

Prairie choruses are growing quieter as an array of threats has coalesced into a perfect storm aimed at grasslands and the birds they support. The problems range from outright sprawl to warming climate to, ironically, the nation’s quest for alternative fuels to fight global warming. “We’ve lost more grasslands than any other habitat type on the continent,” laments Dan Casey, Northern Rockies coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy. “And that extraordinary habitat loss has taken its toll on birds.”

As the buffalograss and blue grama, prairie clover and dotted gayfeather go, so too does a vast community of birds that are tied to these habitats. Three out of four grassland bird species have declined in abundance over the last 30 years, and the birds have exhibited the steepest population declines of any group of North American birds. Fully 40 percent of the entire continent’s declining bird species are those that depend on grasslands.

Converting grasslands to croplands may cause birds the most grief of all. From 2006 to 2007 alone, corn production in the United States increased 19 percent, with nearly one out of every three bushels earmarked for ethanol production. Corn, scientists point out, is one of the worst crops for grassland birds. For starters, most species won’t nest in corn, and corn production requires high inputs of chemical herbicides and fertilizers—bad news for natural ecosystems in general. Read the entire article.

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