What is carbon sequestration and how is Summit County utilizing it to meet eco-friendly goals?

Interstate 70, Tenmile Creek and the Tenmile Recpath are pictured from Mount Royal on July 13, 2022.
Steven Josephson/Summit Daily News

When it comes to talks on how to lessen the impact on the climate, environmentalists and corporations have often discussed carbon sequestration as a potential long-term solution. 

Carbon sequestration is a process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, which can be done by forests or in the soil, among other processes. This can include planting trees in areas that previously did not have them or by increasing the biodiversity in soils. 

In Summit County, various restoration projects and studies have involved increasing the use of soil and trees for sequestering carbon. 

Jim Donlon said Pass Creek Ranch, one of four ranches to be included in Friends of the Lower Blue River’s soil carbon sequestration study, said that each property sent in soil samples, which will be analyzed by scientists at Cornell University. Each analysis will be customized for each ranch. 

“One (plant) that I found out that is particularly beneficial — that I hadn’t appreciated quite so much — are the willow bushes that are in the riparian areas,” Donlon said. “They are near the creeks and ponds, and so forth, that are all dotted up and down the Lower Blue. The willow bushes that are going along those creeks and ponds are particularly good at sequestering carbon on our ranch. (Scientists) took samples from the hay fields, in the riparian areas, from the forested area and from the sage area. We’ll get kind of the picture overall and move forward.”

Kendra Fuller, executive director of the Blue River Watershed Group, said projects that tackle carbon sequestration are usually long-term endeavors and results won’t be seen right away, but it has to start somewhere. 

“​​If we look long term, after (ranchers) do more studies, and then we think about broadening the scope of this, we’ll look at the landscape in the Lower Blue and kind of identify those high-value areas that are maybe the wetlands that we want to protect. … And we’ll look at the entire landscape and kind of categorize things and prioritize them and say, ‘This landscape, we can improve only so much. But this one’s functioning — let’s keep it functioning.’ Or, ‘this one has the potential to function — let’s see if we can’t restore that wetland.’”

Another example is the Swan River restoration project, which aims to restore much of the dredge-mined areas of the Swan River near Breckenridge. Jordan Mead, resource specialist for the county, said that the project is reaching the final phases for restoration construction on Reach B, where revegetation crews are planting in the riparian zone near the stream.

At a June Forest Health Task Force meeting, Mead said the project will annually reduce approximately 54 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or 5,400 tons over the next 100 years. He added that though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to emissions being created, it is still sequestering carbon in an ecosystem that previously had not been sequestering any at all.  

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