Saturday, January 11, 2014

Can America’s Grasslands Be Saved?

North Dakota Grasslands (Credit: Click to enlarge.
A study published early this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 1.3 million acres of grassland had been converted to corn and soybeans between 2006 and 2011 in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

Native prairie — whose plants have deep and extensive root systems — is a very effective carbon sink if not cultivated, but plowing and converting that land to annual row crops leads to the emission of 20 to 75 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per acre.  As a point of comparison, a typical passenger car emits about 5.1 tons of carbon dioxide a year.  Even if that converted land is devoted fully to the production of corn for ethanol that replaces fossil fuels, the study found that it would take 30 years to make up for the loss of carbon sequestration.

Can America’s Grasslands Be Saved?

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