Did you know that public lands play a critical role in shaping the future of climate change?
In Utah, 45 million tons of fossil fuels are extracted each year from federal public lands, the equivalent emissions of 9.7 passenger cars driven for one year. These extraction practices, designed to help fuel our energy grids, creates a positive feedback loop. The University of Calgary explains, “Similar to how keeping money in a savings account earns interest and compounds to earn more money, positive climate feedback increases some initial change in the climate.”
But what are public lands?
These are areas of land and water that are today collectively owned by U.S. citizens and managed by government agencies. These lands can consist of national parks, monuments, forests, wild and scenic rivers, Bureau of Land Management lands, wilderness and wilderness study areas, watersheds, and municipal lands, to name a few. Each agency oversees how these lands are managed to balance the multitude of uses these areas have- from recreational activities like hiking, kayaking, or rock climbing, to energy development, logging, and mining.
These large patches of continuous wild lands are also important for maintaining habitat
s for wildlife, allowing for safe migration due to climate change, and they can function as carbon sinks! Trees and plants suck CO2, a major contributor to climate change, from the air during photosynthesis. As they grow, they can absorb great volumes in their leaves, trunks, and roots. The older and bigger they get, the more carbon they store!
While we might not think of Utah as being a dense forest, the forests we do have play pivotal roles, just as much as the desert in helping support ecosystems and wildlife. The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, contains over a net acreage of 2,169,596 acres of forested land, imagine all the CO2 this massive forest in our backyard is absorbing!