Wildland fires release more than 13 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and that could rise to 31 million in the future.
That’s just one of the findings of a U.S. Interior report issued earlier this month. The U.S. Geological Survey study found that water bodies in the West released even more carbon dioxide than fires, about 30 million tons.
The report, Baseline and Projected Carbon Storage and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in the Ecosystems of the Western United States, said forests, grasslands, shrublands and other ecosystems in the West sequester nearly 100 million tons of carbon each year. This carbon is captured through natural processes and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
This counter balances the emissions of more than 83 million passenger cars a year in the United States, or nearly 5 percent of Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 estimate of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
This study shows that we are getting ecosystem services from the open spaces we have across the West. But the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the Pacific Northwest forests and the vast grasslands and shrublands of the Great Basin, also serve us by providing timber, wildlife habitat, biofuels, minerals, and other products.
Forests are overwhelmingly the largest carbon-storing pools, sequestering 70 percent of the carbon stored in the West. Forests occupy 28 percent of the land in the West, contain the most carbon per unit area, and have the second-highest rate of sequestration of ecosystem types, the study said.
The most value ecosystem type in terms of sequestration are wetlands but they cover only 1 percent of the West. Grasslands and shrublands cover nearly 60 percent of the West and store 23 percent of the region’s carbon. Agricultural lands, which makes up 6 percent of the West, store 4.5 percent of the carbon.