Thank you very much, Mr. Chairperson, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you and hopefully broaden the discussion to include habitat as part of the impacts of biofuel strategy.
Ducks Unlimited Canada is a private non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation, restoration, and management of Canada's wetlands and associated habitats for the benefit of waterfowl, wildlife, and people. DU works with many industries, including agriculture and government, to develop and implement land management systems that are both economically and ecologically sound.
DU's first priority in all these efforts is to find land uses that provide improved habitat to grow and sustain continental waterfowl populations. However, DU recognizes that if waterfowl-friendly production systems are going to find their place on the landscape, they also have to make economic sense. In this context DU believes that if executed correctly, a Canadian biofuel strategy could make a significant contribution to meeting North American waterfowl management plan population goals.
DU is the main delivery arm of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and this plan identifies species-specific population goals for various waterfowl species in North America. The Canadian Prairies are often referred to as the North American duck factory, as on average approximately 40% of the continental duck population breeds there. Lack of adequate quantity and quality of upland nesting habitat has been identified as the key limiting factor to waterfowl production on the Canadian Prairies.
Upland nesting habitat comes in many forms, including perennial grasses, managed wildlife habitat, native and tame pastures, hayfields, trees and forest areas, annual cropland, and remnant native areas.
Since our inception in 1938, DU has delivered science-guided conservation programs to meet the needs of North America's waterfowl while respecting other users of the land. We endeavour to evaluate and, where appropriate, support initiatives that are environmentally, economically, and ethically sound. Biofuels are a recent example of this. Depending on the feedstock used and the agricultural production system employed, an expanded ethanol production system could either be beneficial or detrimental to waterfowl habitat and to the environment overall.
On making ethanol greener, smarter, and better, increased biofuel production in Canada has the potential to impact waterfowl habitat directly and indirectly. Indirect habitats could include increased risk of contamination of wetlands through intensification of production systems; loss of wetlands, perennial grasslands, and existing native habitat to drainage and clearing to provide additional cultivated acres; and reduced conversion of marginal and annually cropped land to perennial cover.
Direct impacts to habitat could be made through the selection of feedstock for biofuel production. DU has conducted nest searches on thousands of acres of cropland and other habitats to evaluate their use by nesting waterfowl. Based on these analyses, not all land uses are equally valuable from a habitat perspective. Annually cropped land is generally viewed as the least productive nesting habitat for waterfowl. Winter cereals, such as winter wheat, have been found to be the exception to this rule in that they provide both attractive and successful habitats for upland nesting waterfowl. Perennial grasslands, including native prairie and hay, have been found to provide improved nesting habitat for upland nesting waterfowl. An additional benefit from perennial grasslands is also an associated increase in landscape level nest survival.
Among biofuels, ethanol has the greatest potential to provide improved waterfowl habitat in Canada. The following discussion will focus on the potential habitat impacts of grain- and cellulose-based ethanol production.
Corn is the dominant grain used in ethanol production in North America, and as many of you know, on the Canadian Prairies corn is not generally a viable cropping option. Currently spring wheat is the primary feedstock that is locally grown for ethanol plants in western Canada, and as mentioned earlier, spring-seeded cropland provides poor nesting habitat as spring seeding operations overlap with peak nesting initiation, leaving most nests vulnerable for destruction from tillage.
If grain-based ethanol production relies primarily on spring-seeded crops such as corn, wheat, or other cereals, wildlife habitat will remain, at best, status quo. However, if winter wheat and other winter cereals were utilized as the primary feedstock for ethanol production on the Canadian Prairies, there would be an increase in nesting cover available for waterfowl and other upland nesting bird species. These statements do presume that an expanded grain-based ethanol production system would not result in the conversion of existing upland and wetland habitats to annual cropland.
Cellulosic ethanol production could provide for favourable waterfowl habitat, depending on the feedstock that's utilized. If annual crop residue is the feedstock of choice, the waterfowl benefit or disbenefit would be similar to that of grain-based systems.
Perennial crop feedstock alternatives do have the potential to provide improved habitat. The key to the value of this habitat lies in the production system, the land use that would be displaced by that feedstock, and the harvest date and method.
Switchgrass and other perennial grasses hold the greatest promise for concurrently producing ethanol feedstock and waterfowl habitat on the Canadian Prairies. Perennial grasses that are hayed annually, as anticipated in an ethanol feedstock production system, provide the greatest waterfowl habitat value when cutting occurs after the nesting season, which is mid to late July.
Stubble height post-cutting is also important, as most grass species have not begun to grow in late April and early May, when waterfowl initiate their nest, which means the residual cover from the past crop is the nesting cover.
Production systems that include burning during the nesting season would, of course, be detrimental to waterfowl and other grassland nesting birds.
In landscapes where agriculture and forestry interface, there is a potential to use wood fibre as a feedstock. Ducks Unlimited works with many members of the forestry industry to develop best management practices to minimize harvest impacts on waterfowl habitat. If feedstock came from sawmill waste, we anticipate that the effect on waterfowl habitat would be minimal, as no additional lands would be harvested.
In cases where additional existing forested lands were harvested or new woodlots were established to provide feedstock, the waterfowl habitat could be significant. The type of impact is currently unknown, and Ducks Unlimited is undertaking research to understand the relationship between habitat impacts and waterfowl populations in areas such as the southern boreal forest.
Ducks Unlimited believes that, if implemented correctly, a Canadian biofuel strategy could truly provide multi-functional benefits. These benefits could include economic development in rural prairie Canada, reduction of greenhouse gases associated with fuel production and consumption, increase in and extension of Canada's energy reserves, and improvement in wildlife habitat. If feedstock is selected for more than just its ability to produce starch, government and industry can implement a biofuel strategy that provides these benefits.
Ducks Unlimited respectfully recommends that the government take steps to maximize these environmental benefits if overall environmental improvement is one of the government's goals in supporting the development of a biofuel industry.
Specific actions that could ensure multi-functional benefits include the following.
First is providing preferential incentives to those companies that select feedstock that results in additional environmental benefits. We believe sound science is available to support the habitat value of both winter cereals and perennial forage-based ethanol production.
Second is development of a science plan, involving government, industry, and academia, to study the values that accrue from expansion of the ethanol industry in Canada. Ducks Unlimited would be pleased to participate in this effort and provide leadership in areas where we have expertise.
In addition, we recommend that the government further examine the impact of various feedstock productions on net greenhouse gas and energy balances, and impacts on water quantity and quality.
In addition to our professional staff, Ducks Unlimited has nearly 1,000 volunteers committed to fulfilling our mission, along with more than 176,000 Canadians who support us. Development of an alliance between government, the biofuel industry, and Ducks Unlimited could make the industry greener, better, and smarter, and we look forward to pursuing these opportunities to make it a reality.
Ducks Unlimited Canada is grateful for the opportunity to present our thoughts to this committee and welcomes any and all questions.