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Will Second Generation Biofuels Lead to Bioinvasions?

Reference
Smith, A.L., Klenk, N., Wood, S., Hewitt, N., Henriques, I., Yan, N. and Bazely, D.R. 2013. Second generation biofuels and bioinvasions: An evaluation of invasive risks and policy responses in the United States and Canada. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 27: 30-42.
In regard to biofuels, and noting that (1) "many of the most popular second generation crops proposed for cultivation in the U.S. and Canada are not native to North America," and that (2) "some are known to be invasive," Smith et al. (2013) write that "the development of a large-scale biofuel industry on the continent could lead to the widespread introduction, establishment, and spread of invasive plant species if invasive risks are not properly considered as part of biofuel policy." In light of these unwanted potentialities, Smith et al. evaluated "the risk of biological invasion posed by the emerging second generation biofuel industry in the U.S. and Canada by examining the invasive risk of candidate biofuel plant species, and reviewing existing biofuel policies to determine how well they address the issue of invasive species."

In describing their findings, first of all, the seven Canadian researchers say they uncovered evidence that "numerous potentially invasive plant species are being considered for biofuel production in the U.S. and Canada," yet they state that the invasive risk of these projects "receives little to no attention in these countries' biofuel policies." Secondly, they identified "several barriers to integrating invasive species and biofuel policy, relating to policy analytical capacity, governance, and conflicting policy objectives."

As a result of their several disturbing findings, Smith et al. conclude their report by stating they "recommend that governments act now, while the second generation biofuel industry is in its infancy, to develop robust and proactive policy addressing invasive risk," noting that "policy options to minimize biological invasions include banning the use of known invasive plant species, ongoing monitoring of approved species, and use of buffer zones around cultivated areas."

And in closing, they warn that "time is limited," such that "if federal and provincial governments do not act soon, they will be faced with closing the barn door after the horse has bolted."

And that is bad policy, indeed.

Archived 29 January 2014