Carbon Sequestration
Southeast Region
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Questions and Answers

Credit: USFWS

Credit: USFWS

1. What is terrestrial carbon sequestration?

Terrestrial carbon sequestration is the removal of gaseous carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and binding it in living tissue by plants. Healthy growing native hardwood forests are highly effective at sequestering CO2 in forest biomass.

Carbon is an element that is cycled through the biosphere. It is assumed that carbon found in aquatic and terrestrial carbon sources was once in balance with gaseous pools of carbon found in the atmosphere. That balance has been disrupted by human use of fossil fuels and land use changes. Carbon, specifically CO2, is the most prominent of the greenhouse gases implicated in climate change, and in a multitude of associated impacts that directly or indirectly affect ecosystems.

The imbalance in the carbon cycle, on the production side, has been recognized for over 100 years. National attention to the subject of climate change has increased since the 1990s. Numerous companies and corporations are working with US government agencies to reduce carbon emissions through the use of more efficient technologies to reduce emissions, cleaner burning fuels, and the sequestration of greenhouse gases in a voluntary program led by the US Department of Energy and the US Department of Agriculture. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions intensity by 18 percent by 2012.

2. Is terrestrial carbon sequestration an effective way to begin to reduce the global effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide?

The United Nations Environment Programme’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the US Department of Energy have determined that until advanced technologies are developed to reduce emissions effectively, at a reasonable cost, terrestrial carbon sequestration will be, for the next 50 years, an effective and reasonably priced means of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

3. Is the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) working with other federal agencies on global climate change and greenhouse gas sequestration policies and issues?

Yes, the Service works on national greenhouse gas sequestration policies and issues with the President’s Cabinet-level Committee on Climate Change Science and Technology Integration. The Service is a Bureau in the US Department of the Interior, and represents the Secretary of the Interior on a terrestrial sequestration subcommittee of the Interagency Working Group on Climate Change Science and Technology.

The Service also works with the US Department of Agriculture’s Global Change Program Office, Forest Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service on issues of conservation-based terrestrial carbon sequestration.

4. Is the Southeastern United States an important area in which to sequester carbon?

Land-use change is one of the top causes of the imbalance of atmospheric CO2. On an acre of land, annual tillage for the production of agricultural crops releases more carbon into the atmosphere than is sequestered by the soil and plant growth on that acre. Additional carbon is released from fertilizer and from operating farm equipment. Disked land is a carbon source. A healthy growing bottomland hardwood forest is a carbon sink. Over a 70-year period, the net difference between an acre in annual row crop production and a growing bottomland hardwood forest is about 600 tons of carbon that the forest is able to sequester.

The importance of reforestation in the southeastern US, and particularly in the Lower Mississippi River Valley (LMRV), goes well beyond carbon sequestration. Today, of the 25 million acres of forested wetlands that once occurred in the LMRV, only about 4 million acres remain in a highly fragmented landscape with extremely poor water quality. Species dependent on large forested tracts have either disappeared from the area, or are species of concern. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has worked closely with partners, both private individuals and corporations, and organizations to develop a large-scale ecological landscape plan to restore native wildlife and aquatic habitats across the LMRV. The goals are to reduce native habitat fragmentation and to provide habitats for specific trust resources, such as the threatened Louisiana black bear, migratory waterfowl, neotropical migratory birds, and shorebirds. This Service plan is guiding reforestation priorities, with native tree species, on public and private lands.

Development of partnerships with private industry to restore priority forests of native plants for terrestrial carbon sequestration provides a great socio-economic opportunity to restore the ecology and ecological functions for the benefit of all.

5. How does the US Fish and Wildlife Service accomplish terrestrial carbon sequestration projects on a landscape scale?

  • a. The Service applies themes of national and international conservation initiatives to identify sustainable landscapes at regional ecosystem scales. In the southeastern US, the Service’s terrestrial carbon sequestration projects are working towards the science-based pursuit of predicted landscape ecosystems sustainability.

  • b. Wildlife population-based goals and objectives are identified. The fundamental elements of the Service’s terrestrial carbon sequestration and conservation enterprise are planning, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and research.

  • c. A progressive refinement of goals, objectives, and strategies are applied.

  • d. Integrated partnerships with industry, citizens, and governmental and nongovernmental organizations are key components of Service landscape-scale terrestrial carbon sequestration projects.

  • e. When wildlife conservation principles are employed as an integral part of greenhouse gas sequestration, partnership ventures, such as those of the Service, will be able to reverse past ecosystem damage and concurrently restore native habitats for fish and wildlife.

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Last updated: February 4, 2010