Make Land Conservation an Important Element in Fighting Climate Change
Natural and agricultural landscapes play an important role in our climate. The EPA estimates that U.S. lands, public and private, together provide nearly 900 million metric tons of annual carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. This represents 14.8% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
But there is strong evidence that that this sink is being diminished, particularly through loss of forests and grasslands. The 2003 USDA Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) identified loss of forest, grassland, and agricultural landscapes to be more than 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) a year.
In addition to reducing their capacity as a carbon sink, conversion of grasslands and forests also generates significant one-time emissions of greenhouse gases (40-300 tons per hectare), further adding to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. At the rate of loss cited in the NRI, that translates to 32 million to 240 million metric tons of new carbon emissions a year. These changes are largely taking place on privately owned lands.
Because of these factors, we call on the Administration to support a variety of policies to aid conservation of private forest, grasslands and agricultural lands to retain their role in mitigating carbon emissions and to prevent carbon emissions from their conversion to more intensive uses.
The Administration could begin by creating a Climate Reserve that would list and track conserved lands and their relative contributions to reducing carbon emissions. This Reserve would include public lands and private lands. An important part of this goal could be achieved through a revitalization of the Natural Resources Inventory, last compiled by NRCS in 2003, which tracked land use changes across the country. A Climate Reserve would be independent of any policy on land-use related “sequestration” or “offsets” that might be created in any “cap and trade” system for greenhouse gas emissions.