Northeastern Wyoming could be a carbon sink

Dec 13, 2011

The U.S. Geological Survey has published a study examining the current and projected carbon storage in the Great Plains region, including Northeastern Wyoming.

Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere. The study found that the region to be a “carbon sink,” meaning the trees, grasses and soils absorb more carbon dioxide than the area emits into the atmosphere. For now. Jonathan Smith of the U-S-G-S says that could change if people are not careful.

“The Great Plains over many years has been a large storer of carbon, but some of our human activities is changing the ability for the Great Plains to store so much carbon. And most of that has to do with our conversion of the original grasslands into agricultural areas,” Smith says.

He hopes the new study will inspire policy makers and land owners to manage land in a way that promotes further carbon sequestration. Smith says there are techniques that could also further improve the land’s ability to absorb carbon, like avoiding tilling in agriculture and preserving wetlands.

“Obviously trees are the major carbon storers in the United States,” Smith says. “So promoting forested lands, both afforestation – where you plant trees in areas where they haven’t been before – and also reforestation – promoting tree planting in those areas where trees have been harvested – as part of a timber operation.”

Smith says the Great Plains was the first in a series of regional carbon storage studies around the U-S which will help states budget how much carbon they emit into the atmosphere.