Nearly 10,000 years ago, as massive glaciers began their northward retreat, vast swaths of the upper Midwest and Canada were given a gift of monumental proportions that is in danger of being erased by anthropogenic activity.
The Prairie Potholes Region covers nearly 350,000 square miles is an intricately interconnected ecosystem that demonstrates the adage that whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In their infant state, scientists believe the pothole region may have been comprised of nearly 49 million acres of shallow wetland areas which is greater than the Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut combined.
Agricultural Conversion Comes at a Cost
These richly fertile areas presented prime agricultural potential to European settlers, resulting in over a hundred years of conversion and fragmentation as the area became the ‘breadbasket’ to the world.
Draining and conversion of prairie pothole wetlands into agriculture account for up to 50% net loss of prairie pothole habitat since the time of European settlement. The implications for climate change, and carbon sequestration issues of today, is critical.
Wetlands, comprising just 4% of the planet’s surface, are responsible for storing almost 33 % of all organic matter and house the greatest single potential for immediately available carbon sequestration through restoration.
Enormous ‘Cap and Trade’ Potential
Recent studies suggest that, despite modern human activity, close to 12 million acres of native wetland show potential for habitat restoration. This fact alone is crucial to understanding the importance of restoring the prairie pothole habitat. What this means for climate change issues today, as we move closer to worldwide carbon cap and trade economic models, is that a restored prairie pothole region can buy us valuable time, right now, in supporting power generation potential in the northeastern corridor.
The process of terrestrial carbon sequestration relative to carbon cap and trade lies in the incredibly high level of productivity that these wetlands possess to absorb, store and retain atmospheric carbon in both plants and soil during their natural seasonal growth and overwintering cycles. Experts suggest that with proper maintenance and management techniques this effort will offer an “unparalleled opportunity to effectively deliver the benefits of carbon sequestration in a short time frame.”
According to Milmoe and Forman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “successful restoration of the available 12.2 million acres of pothole wetland habitat has the potential to sequester up to 122.6 million tons of soil organic carbon” or the equivalent of 25% of all transportation related CO2 emissions for the entire prairie pothole region per year.
Alliances Pose Key to Successful Restoration
Perhaps the most important consideration in the potential for prairie restoration on a grand scale are the voluntary alliances of non-governmental organizations, corporations, tribes, schools and federal, state and local government agencies. Representative of this collaborative approach to conserve and restore this area is The Plains CO2 Reduction Partnership, and The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
7Q10′s years of wetlands restoration success is highly qualified to assist with efforts to restore the prairie pothole ecosystem and reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.