Corn-Based Ethanol Production Threatens Bird Habitats

The dramatic increase in corn-based ethanol production is a perfect example of the enormous pressures being applied on fish and wildlife resources in our never-ending pursuit to satisfy energy demands. As more and more acres are taken out of CRP or grazing land and put into production, gamebirds have fewer and fewer places to nest and escape predators. Now the ethanol industry is confident that regulators will approve a higher blend of ethanol in our gas, according to this Reuters story:

_U.S. regulators are likely to approve a higher blend of ethanol in U.S. gasoline shortly, an ethanol producers group and the top U.S. agriculture official each said on Friday, and the new fuel mix could be selling at the pump by next spring. Ethanol companies and corn traders are anxiously awaiting a decision from the Environmental Protection Agency — expected within weeks — for a waiver to allow cars built in 2007 and after to burn regular gasoline blended with ethanol levels of 15 percent, a fuel that would be known as E15. The ethanol blend level now is 10 percent.

_ _While proponents have long argued that American automobiles can handle the higher blend without significant damage to the engine, the decision to move to E15 has been delayed twice to allow for more testing. Growth Energy, an industry group representing a coalition of ethanol producers that petitioned for the higher rate, also said it anticipated a positive outcome. “We expect that within a few months after the announcement E15 will be available,” said a spokeswoman for Growth Energy days after meeting on the issue with EPA chief Lisa Jackson. The higher blends could be available by March or April of next year assuming the EPA makes two approvals for use of E15 in 2001 cars and newer models by the end of the year, the spokeswoman said. Asked about the ruling, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that he expected the EPA to approve higher blends for some cars by early-to-mid October, in line with a target that the agency itself had given several months ago.

“I expect that they will see that E15 is an appropriate fuel for some vehicles. I don’t know if they will necessarily say it is appropriate for all vehicles, but for some vehicles which will help us expand the market,” he said. Approval of the new fuel could help producers such as Archer Daniels Midland, oil refiner Valero Energy Corp, and private company Poet, the biggest U.S. ethanol producer, and potentially give fresh legs to a rally in U.S. corn futures, which have surged more than 55 percent in three months._

If approved, and if demand for corn surges as a result, what do you think that decision will mean for the long-term viability of upland gamebird and waterfowl populations in our plains and mid-western states?