Bioenergy production and forest landscape change in the southeastern United States
Production of woody biomass for bioenergy, whether wood pellets or liquid biofuels, has the potential to cause substantial landscape change and concomitant effects on forest ecosystems, but the landscape effects of alternative production scenarios have not been fully assessed. We simulated landscape change from 2010 to 2050 under five scenarios of woody biomass production for wood pellets and liquid biofuels in North Carolina, in the southeastern United States, a region that is a substantial producer of wood biomass for bioenergy and contains high biodiversity. Modeled scenarios varied biomass feedstocks, incorporating harvest of 'conventional' forests, which include naturally regenerating as well as planted forests that exist on the landscape even without bioenergy production, as well as purpose-grown woody crops grown on marginal lands. Results reveal trade-offs among scenarios in terms of overall forest area and the characteristics of the remaining forest in 2050. Meeting demand for biomass from conventional forests resulted in more total forest land compared with a baseline, business-as-usual scenario. However, the remaining forest was composed of more intensively managed forest and less of the bottomland hardwood and longleaf pine habitats that support biodiversity. Converting marginal forest to purpose-grown crops reduced forest area, but the remaining forest contained more of the critical habitats for biodiversity. Conversion of marginal agricultural lands to purpose-grown crops resulted in smaller differences from the baseline scenario in terms of forest area and the characteristics of remaining forest habitats. Each scenario affected the dominant type of land-use change in some regions, especially in the coastal plain that harbors high levels of biodiversity. Our results demonstrate the complex landscape effects of alternative bioenergy scenarios, highlight that the regions most likely to be affected by bioenergy production are also critical for biodiversity, and point to the challenges associated with evaluating bioenergy sustainability.