Carbon Sequestration in the U.S. National Parks: A Value Beyond Visitation

40 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2015 Last revised: 31 Mar 2015

Adam Banasiak

Harvard Kennedy School - Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government

Linda Bilmes

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

John B. Loomis

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics

Date Written: February 17, 2015

Abstract

Carbon sequestration — the process of moderating global climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in long-term mineral, organic, and oceanic reservoirs — is an important ecosystem service provided by protected natural areas. One type of carbon sequestration that has received attention in recent years is vegetative carbon sequestration, which is the sequestration provided through plant growth. While a number of countries have developed estimates of their national vegetative carbon sequestration capacity, no estimate exists for the National Park Service (NPS) administered areas, 85% of which are vegetated. This paper addresses that knowledge gap. Using federally created, peer-reviewed work on carbon sequestration rates based on a 5-year baseline period (2001-2005) of observed data, NPS boundary data, and landcover types, the study calculates the current tonnage and economic value of vegetative carbon sequestration services on all NPS units located in the continental U.S. Average projected sequestration amounts for the period 2006-2050 are also provided based on modeled data. Using conservative assumptions, we find that at present average annual carbon sequestration on NPS lands amounts to 17.5 million metric tons of CO2, valued at $707 million dollars using the current federal interagency working group social cost of carbon damage price of $40.45/metric ton. In the future years through 2050, absent any changes in land management (such as invasive species removal or fire management) carbon sequestration is predicted to fall by 31% to an average of 12.0 million metric tons of CO2 sequestered annually, due to factors such as a warming climate, invasive species, and increased fire hazards. Given the benefits to society of avoiding this future loss in carbon sequestration, funding for management actions for the National Park Service may be economically justifiable in order to mitigate this decline, although further research is needed to better understand how specific NPS practices can maintain current carbon sequestration levels.

Suggested Citation

Banasiak, Adam and Bilmes, Linda and Loomis, John B., Carbon Sequestration in the U.S. National Parks: A Value Beyond Visitation (February 17, 2015). HKS Working Paper No. RWP15-007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2577365 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2577365

Adam Banasiak

Harvard Kennedy School - Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government

John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 JFK Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Linda Bilmes (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-4753 (Phone)
617-496-2554 (Fax)

John B. Loomis

Colorado State University, Fort Collins - Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics ( email )

B310 Andrew G. Clark
Fort Collins, CO 80523
United States
970-491-2485 (Phone)

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