Organizations and governments at all levels have set goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and have begun to work toward achieving these goals in an effort to mitigate global climate change. The City of Austin, in Travis County, Texas, has set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by the year 2010. The City's Carbon Dioxide Reduction Strategy, drafted in 1997, identified aggressive strategies for reducing GHG emissions; however, carbon sequestration in natural systems was not considered as an option. I conducted a literature review to assess the carbon sequestration potential of the City of Austin's municipally-owned natural areas with respect to Travis County CO2 emissions and to identify strategies for increasing rates of carbon capture while also meeting the federal permit or municipal bond obligations of some of these lands. An analysis of 22 studies indicates that the City of Austin's natural areas are likely functioning as carbon sinks but sequestration is minimal relative to regional emissions. Carbon sequestration by Austin's natural areas is not likely to offset more than 1.6% of Travis County's year-2007 emissions. Sequestration can be improved, however, while also achieving or enhancing primary ecological management goals. Protection of soil carbon pools via land conservation is a critical first step in preventing ecosystem carbon loss and assuring that ecological management can maintain and improve sequestration rates long-term. Ecosystem carbon management techniques include prescribed fire, afforestation, rotational grazing, and plant diversity improvement.
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