By Deb Courson Smith Big Sky Connection

HELENA – Biofuels are hot new crops around the nation, but before plowing ahead to seed the fields, a new report urges caution. In a new report, the National Wildlife Federation notes that bioenergy is an important piece of clean, local energy production. However, it warns that crops should be carefully selected and monitored, because in many cases they can become noxious weeds if they escape the fields.

Report author Patty Glick says the good news is that problems are mostly preventable – and Montana’s focus on camelina is an example of a careful selection.

“One thing that we can do in the case of bioenergy is conduct rigorous screening to see if they’re going to be potentially invasive.”

She points to giant reed, a species grown in California for bioenergy, which spread and cost at least $70 million to clean up. The report recommends that native, non-genetically engineered plants be used for bioenergy production.

Sometimes invasiveness can’t be predicted, Glick admits, which is why it also is important to design oversight programs.

“State and federal governments need to implement rigorous monitoring, as well as early-detection and rapid-response protocols. They should be paid for by the bioenergy feedstock producers themselves.”

The report also explores the idea of harvesting invasive weeds in areas of infestation, to reduce their impact and provide biomass stock at the same time.

“Growing Risk: Addressing the Invasive Potential of Bioenergy Feedstocks” is available at nwf.org/growingrisk.