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WIREs Energy Environ.
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Framework for assessing land‐management effects on at‐risk species: Example of SE USA wood pellet production and gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

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Abstract Land‐management choices made for economic and societal gains intrinsically influence landscapes and species that are dependent upon them. We propose a simple analysis framework to examine critical intersections between land‐management choices and the life‐history conditions of selected species of concern, thereby facilitating the identification of mitigation practices that can reduce negative impacts on species at risk. We test the proposed framework through application to gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), a keystone species that is the focus of conservation efforts across the southeastern region of United States of America, where wood pellets are being produced for bioenergy. Production of these wood pellets for export to Europe and Asia has drastically increased in the past decade, raising concerns about potential harm to biodiversity since many species in the forests sourcing pellet production were already at risk prior to the development of this new commodity. Identifying the mechanisms of potential impacts of wood pellet production on species of concern is essential to establishing meaningful management recommendations that can enhance conservation efforts while supporting sustainable bioenergy. By considering the intersections between life‐history conditions of gopher tortoise and forest‐management practices related to woody biomass extraction for pellet production, we identify several mechanisms by which the wood‐pellet industry might affect this species of concern, both positively and negatively. We then identify mitigation practices that can help offset the potential impacts of logging, thinning, and dead wood removal on gopher tortoise. Our analysis framework may be transferable to other species of concern and land‐management practices across diverse landscapes. This article is categorized under: Bioenergy > Economics and Policy Bioenergy > Climate and Environment
Gopher tortoise priority areas of conservation (shown in pink) overlap with export pellet mills and their wood sourcing areas (shown in green) across six states in the southeastern USA. Gopher tortoise sightings (USGS 2019) within these areas are shown for the available years since pellet production began (i.e., 2009–2018). Four nearby shipping ports through which wood pellets have been sent to Europe and Asia (i.e., New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, and Tampa) are also depicted (Data Sources: Databasin.org, Forisk, 2018, Hewes, Butler, & Liknes, 2017, USITC, 2019)
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Timberland wood removals and woody feedstock types associated with SE USA wood pellet production for bioenergy (Abt et al., 2014; Parish et al., 2017). Nearly half of the pellets from the region supporting gopher tortoise populations are produced from second‐hand mill residues that are not included in this diagram (Forisk, 2018)
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Gopher tortoise life‐history conditions that are impacted by wood pellet production (blue boxes) shown in relation to supporting forest habitat characteristics (white boxes)
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