Climate Change
Southeast Region

Opportunities to Sequester Carbon by Restoring North Carolina's Pocosins


A bulldozer in the distant background stands between a stream of water and rocks
The goal of this project is to reflood pocosins that were drained in the past for agricultural purposes. Photo by USFWS.

It’s been more than a decade since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first began partnering with energy companies to reduce global warming. It works like this: Companies plant trees on national wildlife refuges, reclaiming native habitats from former farmland. In exchange, they get carbon credits to offset emissions.

The results have been eye-popping. Two dozen energy companies, with conservation partners, have planted more than 80,000 acres of trees on refuge lands, much of it in the Lower Mississippi Valley. The estimated carbon offset over 90 years is the equivalent of taking more than 70,000 cars off the road.

Today, the Service is working on second-generation biological carbon sequestration methods. Trees are good carbon eaters; peat bogs and tidal marshes are even better.

The research is still early on tidal marshes and mangrove swamps, their tropical equivalents. But the science so far says those ecosystems pack more punch than any others. They break down more slowly than trees and other vegetation, which means they release carbon more slowly as they decompose, and, unlike other ecosystems, they do not produce methane. Methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Peat bogs – also known as peatlands and pocosins – are not only carbon dioxide absorbers, they’re also great for sopping up other toxins, like mercury and nitrogen. As with re-establishing historic forests by planting trees, pocosin restoration means turning back the clock. In the last century, farmers and peat miners drained the wetlands, which are characterized by dense evergreen shrubs and pond pines.

By working with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Service is restoring the pocosins as nature’s nutrient sponges, re-saturating nearly 11,000 acres on Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

That’s the equivalent of taking about 6,000 cars off the road every year. And, as with planting trees, restoring pocosins also provides needed wildlife habitat, in addition to other benefits.

“With nearly half a million acres of degraded pocosin wetlands in need of restoration in North Carolina, there is potential to sequester millions of tons of carbon per year,” Service biologist Sara Ward said.

- by Stacy Shelton


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Last updated: October 6, 2010