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Carbon Storage in National Parks

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Photo of Yellowstone National Park

The National Parks Service was created in the late 19th century to protect the natural beauty of the United States. When our national parks were created, the dangers of climate change were not as well known as they are today. Now, we realize how valuable the National Parks Service is in the fight against climate change.

Carbon dioxide pollution is one of the largest drivers of climate change, but the best defense against carbon dioxide pollution also happens to be completely natural. Plants naturally absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the National Parks Service protects over 85 million acres of vegetated land, making it a large player in the carbon storage game.

How Do National Parks Reduce Carbon?

It is estimated that 85% of the land administered under the National Parks Service is covered in plants. In 2015, the Harvard Kennedy Business School conducted a peer-reviewed study to calculate the yearly average carbon sequestration in National Park lands from 2006-20501. Using conservative assumptions, they found that National Park lands sequester 17.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year, however, this number is expected to fall by as much as 30% by the year 2050 due to outside factors such as wildfires. While this study was done over five years ago, using more recent, LandGate estimates that the national parks are sequestering in excess of 100 million metric tons of CO2 per year today. Additionally, it is important to note which parks help our climate the most. This study found that the National Park that stores the most carbon per year by a large margin is the Everglades National Park in Florida, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all carbon sequestration. The map below is from LandGate's LandApp tool, and the darker green areas represent the areas that are the most valuable for carbon credits, since they are sequestering the most carbon:

What is the Value of Carbon Sequestration in National Parks?

Carbon pollution comes with a cost. While there is not currently a carbon tax in place, the cost of climate change will be felt by all of us in the years to come. This is called a social cost, and it can be estimated as a dollar amount. The United States government has estimated the social cost of carbon to be at $40.45 per metric ton. Using this cost, the estimated value of carbon sequestration across National Parks is estimated to be $708 million per year. In 2024, the budget for the NPS is $3.8 Billion, which means that the value of carbon sequestration alone accounts for over 18% of the NPS' yearly budget.

What About Forest Carbon Storage in National Forests?

All the previous data presented has been only for the National Parks Service, and not the National Forest Service. While the difference between the two may seem trivial, there are actually some significant differences. The National Parks Service is managed under the Department of the Interior, while the National Forest Service is managed under the Department of Agriculture.

Additionally, national forests can be used for a number of different purposes, including hunting, fishing, and timber, while National Parks have much more restrictions on use in place. The National Forest Service is also much larger than the National Parks Service, accounting for 193 million acres vs. just 84 million acres. This means that land under the National Forest Service is of even higher value than the national parks land in regards to the social cost of carbon, however, the national forest land is not as protected as the land in national parks. Forested land is extremely valuable in terms of carbon credits because trees sequester more carbon than any other type of vegetation. Read more about Carbon Offsets in American Forests here.

Leading Carbon Credits Data from LandGate

LandGate offers leading Carbon Offset Data and analytics. Easily find out the carbon credit value of any parcel in the US: soil carbon, tree carbon, reforestation carbon, and underground carbon storage. Discover the tree types, height, age, density, and carbon offset potential detailed for every parcel. LandGate’s leading carbon data solutions will help you optimize your carbon credits investments.



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