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If Healthy, Mountain Meadows Can Be Big Carbon Sinks, Study Shows

An image of a big meadow with forests surrounding it.
Cody Reed
A meadow in the Sierra Nevada that was found to hold large quantities of carbon in the soil.

Researchers have found that it’s not just forests on the landscape that can help mitigate climate change. Meadows also provide an efficient way to keep carbon out of the atmosphere.

Cody Reed is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno and the lead author of a new study published last week in the journal Ecosystems. She says these unassuming ecological places can do a lot to help fight climate change – but they have to be healthy.

“Healthy meadows that were sequestering carbon removed as much carbon from the atmosphere per acre every year as tropical rainforests,” she said.

On the flip side, Reed says, unhealthy, degraded meadows can actually release a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. That means cleaning up and restoring such meadows could be a key component in fighting climate change.

“Restoring one 10-acre meadow could have a much bigger impact than 100 acres of the surrounding forest," she said. “[It] provides a really good bang for our buck as far as restoration dollars go in many ways.”

Reed says the findings from the study, which is based on 13 montane meadows spanning the California Sierra Nevada, can be applied across the Mountain West, though she cautions that more research needs to be done.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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