David Mladenoff: Is it too late for biofuel crops in Wisconsin?

12748582763_e3eb2145cb_hIf Wisconsin wants to be a leader in biomass production for biofuels, things need to change—and soon.

A study led by David Mladenoff, professor of forest and wildlife ecology, found that the state’s window of opportunity for biomass production is closing due to recent land cover changes.

The project, highlighted in this recent podCALS episode, looked at changes from 2008-2013 in agricultural and non-agricultural lands in Wisconsin and other Lake States, including open lands (various types), forests/wetlands, corn acreage, soybean acreage, “other ag,” and developed lands.

Assessing these changes, Mladenoff’s team found that the presumed potential land base for perennial cellulosic biomass in the Lake States has been greatly diminished. The data revealed a 37% reduction of non-agricultural open lands in the Lake States, with most of that land transitioning to row crop agriculture. They also found that many of the various landscapes types included in the “open lands” grouping provide a variety of valuable ecosystem services, which are being lost as the lands are converted.

It’ll be hard to alter these trends, notes Mladenoff, as they are largely driven by current policies and incentives for corn ethanol.

This research project was supported by a grant to Mladenoff and David Rothstein at Michigan State University from the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s Sustainable Bioenergy Program. The research is in press in the journal Ecosphere.