Corn Ethanol and Wildlife: How are policy- and market-driven increases in corn plantings affecting habitat and wildlife? (2009)

Client Organization: 
National Wildlife Federation
Project Location : 
Prairie Pothole Region (North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota)
Summary of Project Idea: 

Link to final NWF report:

Recent legislation mandates an increase in domestic corn ethanol production. These mandates are resulting in changes in land use, agricultural practices, and wildlife habitat. The project investigates how these changes are affecting the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains, an ecosystem already facing pressure from agriculture expansion. Specifically, the master's project team drew on previous studies to illustrate the link between demand for corn ethanol, increased corn prices, and the resultant increase in corn plantings throughout the region. The team then mapped "hot spots" of past land-use change to illustrate where increased plantings coincide with loss of native prairie and land in the Conservation Reserve Program. Using Breeding Bird Survey data, the team analyzed the bird population trends in these hot spots to quantify the impact of these land-use changes on wildlife populations. The team's final recommendations focus on mitigating the impacts of corn ethanol production on wildlife and are based on both analysis and conversations with conservation practitioners throughout the region. The report describes how federal and state ethanol incentives and conservation programs can be changed or strengthened either in law or in implementation to best conserve wildlife and habitat for future generations.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Johannes Foufopoulos, Michael Moore, and Steve Yaffee
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Aviva Glaser, MPH/MS Conservation Biology and Environmental Health Science
  • Elizabeth Griffin, MBA/MS Conservation Biology
  • Kristen Johnson, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Greg Fogel, MPP/MS Environmental Policy Planning
  • Becca Brooke, MBA/MS Environmental Policy and Planning
Project Status: 
Past Project