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Carbon Sequestration in Colorado's Lands: An Integrated Spatial And Policy Analysis

Managing landscapes to enhance terrestrial carbon sequestration has significant potential to mitigate climate change. This study draws from the existing literature to quantify and project Colorado's carbon stocks, analyze the impact of three land management scenarios on carbon stocks, and recommend policy opportunities that enhance carbon sequestration in Colorado's lands. The findings indicate that Colorado's lands hold a carbon stock of 3,334 MMT CO2eq, with forests and woodlands holding the largest stocks, at 1,490 and 774 MMT CO2eq respectively. Avoiding the conversion of all grasslands, forests, and wetlands in Colorado over 40 years would increase carbon stocks by 32 MMT CO2eq, 1,053 MMT CO2eq, and 36 MMT CO2eq, respectively. In addition, reforesting all of the current burned areas across the state would result in a carbon stock increase of about 160 MMT CO2eq. It is clear that land management can play a crucial role in meeting Colorado's statewide climate goals. Over the 40-year study period, forest and woodland areas are projected to shrink while shrubland and developed areas are projected to grow. We found that numerous policy opportunities to sequester carbon exist at different jurisdictional levels and across multiple land cover types. The largest opportunities were found in state-level policies and policies impacting forests, grasslands, and wetlands. The passage of statewide emissions reductions legislation has the highest potential to impact carbon sequestration, although political and administrative feasibility of this option are relatively low. Passing a state-level policy that encourages reforestation of privately-owned burned areas could also significantly improve statewide carbon stocks and is more politically feasible This study contributes to the broader field of carbon sequestration literature by examining the nexus of carbon stocks and policy at the state level, and serves as a model for future research on the role of terrestrial carbon stocks in climate change mitigation.

This report was prepared by the University of Colorado Boulder Masters of the Environment Program for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.​