New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

ConservationPosted April 30, 2008
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Seneca Army Depot Wetlands Protection
NY Birders Conservation Column
John Confer, Conservation Committee
Published in the April 2008 issue of NY Birders

The NYSOA Board of Directors at the 9 February meeting passed a resolution of support for the DEC regarding their reclassification of wetlands at the former Seneca Army Depot.

Recent mapping of the former base increases the acreage of protected wetlands from about 200 acres to 2,100 acres. This is largely due to beaver activity (gotta love them beaver), which has occurred since the US Army closed their activities at the base. This recent re-mapping reduces the lands that might be used for proposed biofuels development at the former base, including both the footprint of the proposed ethanol production plant and connecting railroad lines as well as considerable acreage potentially used for biofuels crops. The NYSOA resolution commended DEC for its proactive efforts to protect wetlands and their environmental values.

Two new analyses of the net energy balance of biofuels were published in a recent issue of Science. These studies claim that the net energy balance may be negative. In addition, the articles raise concerns about the effects on land use. They note the ecological consequence of major, global increases in corn acreage. The global consequence of increasing grain production to meet the European Union goal of 5.75% biofuels in all transportation fuel by 2008 and the US biofuel goal of providing 15% of our transportation fuel by 2022 involve immense acreage and changes in who plants what and where.

In order for biofuels to equal a significant fraction of global oil production, it will require large scale clearing of tropical forests and grasslands to provide new agricultural lands. Yet, the transformation of either forests or grasslands into croplands leads to a major release of greenhouse gases, greatly offsetting the potential gains from biofuels.

Many previous assessments of biofuels have stopped at the level of determining the energy balance without considering other, global effects. Clearly, the issue is extremely complex and merits full and continued analyses.

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