Bioenergy and Biodiversity Together
Conversion of existing land uses and cover types—such as agricultural lands—to poplar bioenergy farms on a large scale has benefited biodiversity. Poplars have been cultivated in the Pacific Northwest for decades. When large-scale tree farms were established in the 1980’s and ‘90’s—such as the nearly 30,000 acres near Boardman, Oregon—positive changes occurred in the abundance and distribution of wildlife. These large tree farms replaced irrigated agricultural and native shrub steppe, often resulting in dramatic increases in biodiversity. Studies showed that tree farms changed the abundance and distribution of deer, elk, songbirds, raptors, small mammals, herpetofauna, and invertebrates. For example, the abundance of deer and elk increased dramatically as the plantations developed. In addition, forest songbirds began breeding in the poplar farms.
We studied the effects of tree farm establishment on biodiversity by focusing on vertebrate and invertebrate taxa whose populations often respond quickly to changes in their environments. At each of the poplar demonstration sites in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California, we compared songbird and small mammal abundance and reproduction to the adjacent crop types or land uses that these demonstration sites replaced.
We also sampled for pollinating insects in the poplar demonstration sites and adjacent crops. Results from the first year at the Idaho and Oregon sites found the abundance of small mammals, birds, and pollinating insects was similar between newly established poplar plantations and adjacent fields.