Our region’s parks provide many functions and services, from habitat for wildlife to scenic hiking routes for outdoor enthusiasts. Now we are learning that we can add “carbon storage” to the list.
Metro Vancouver manages 22 regional parks, park reserves and conservation areas covering over 140 square kilometres – an area about the same size as Richmond! Most of the land is accessible for everyone to enjoy, except park reserves, which are being assembled and prepared for park use, and ecological conservancies, which are closed to the general public to protect sensitive wildlife and ecosystems from damage.
A variety of ecosystems can be found in our parks, ranging from old growth forests to salt-water marshes to raised peat bogs. Ecosystems in some parks have a valuable role to play in protecting our climate.
ECOSYSTEM CONSERVATION: FORESTS
Trees are natural “carbon storage devices” that have been removing carbon dioxide for a long time – sometimes hundreds of years. Stored carbon can be released back to the atmosphere relatively quickly when trees are removed. Fire and enhanced decomposition caused by ground disturbance are examples of processes that can cause relatively quick release of stored carbon.
Local governments can now get carbon credits for protecting forested areas from logging and conversion.
ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION: BURNS BOG
Burns Bog Ecological Conservation Area in Delta is part of a unique raised bog ecosystem, and one of the world’s largest protected natural areas in an urban landscape. In a healthy bog, new peat is laid down (or “sequestered”) each year. This removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and can keep it stored for many thousands of years, if the bog is not disturbed. While much of Burns Bog is healthy, some areas have been degraded by agriculture and peat extraction in the past.
Some damaged sites in Burns Bog have already lost stored carbon to the atmosphere, while others containing high water tables have been found to produce elevated methane emissions. Metro Vancouver is looking at a number of these sites to explore restoration practices that would improve ecological function and increase the peatland’s ability to sequester more carbon while reducing methane emissions.
To learn more about how Metro Vancouver is addressing air quality and climate change issues, download the 2015 Caring for the Air report (PDF).
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