Grazinglands reduce greenhouse gases

Rangeland Ecology & Management—A green pasture with grazing animals offers an idyllic image of our natural environment. With the current focus on climate change, such a pasture has much more to offer than image. Through effective policy implementation, grazinglands can reduce greenhouse gases through carbon sequestration and emissions reductions offset credits.

Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon in the ground or oceans, slowing the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere enters the soil of grazinglands through the natural process of photosynthesis by green plants. The subsequent cycling turns some of that carbon into soil organic carbon—and into an environmental, societal and economic benefit for every country with these grazinglands.

“Offset credits are a viable, important cost-containment mechanism for cap-and-trade approaches to mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions programs,” according to an article in the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management. Greenhouse gas emission policies that can provide incentives and monetary awards for land management that leads to greater soil carbon offer much potential. Land management practices are integral to maintaining or improving grasslands with the goal of protecting soil, water and air quality as well as wildlife habitat.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has officially identified carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases as public health hazards. Greenhouse gases and grazinglands are the topic of a special issue of the journal Rangeland Ecology & Management, featuring contributions from an international group of rangeland ecologists, economists, and social scientists. One of the articles in the January 2010 issue discusses societal benefits and policy implications of soil carbon sequestration from the U.S. perspective, while another article examines the matter in West Africa.

In the United States, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (the “Farm Bill”) contains new programs enabling agricultural producers to increase soil carbon in grazingland soils, but no regional or state mandatory policies exist that recognize this as a certifiable offset. Legislation currently in the U.S. Congress would recognize soil carbon sequestration, including on grazinglands, as a valid offset. Agricultural mitigation strategies are likely to be recognized and adopted for the future environmental framework.

In less developed countries with high poverty rates, credits offer a socioeconomic opportunity. However, carbon offsets from agricultural sources are currently limited under regulatory cap-and-trade regimes, and prices in voluntary markets are relatively low, the article reports.

About 2 percent of the global soil organic carbon reserves are estimated to be in West Africa—more than any other single region of the world. Using carbon credits for poverty reduction and to avoid further degradation or to restore lightly degraded lands is an achievable method to sequester carbon at very low cost over extensive areas. Improving the management of West African grazinglands can increase livestock productivity and agricultural income as well, thus improving the situation of some of the world’s poorest people.

For the full text of the article, “Soil Carbon Sequestration in Grazinglands: Societal Benefits and Policy Implications,” visit http://www2.allenpress.com/pdf/rama-63.12FIN.pdf.

For the full text of the article, “Supplying Carbon Sequestration from West African Rangelands: Opportunities and Barriers,” visit http://www2.allenpress.com/pdf/rama-63.1FIN.pdf

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About Rangeland Ecology & Management
Rangeland Ecology & Management is a peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Range Management that is published six times a year. The journal provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of research information, concepts, and philosophies pertaining to the function, management, and sustainable use of global rangeland resources. For more information on the society and journal, visit: http://www.rangelands.org/

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