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Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Benefits of Proposed Utah Wilderness Lands
The America's Red Rock Wilderness Act (ARRWA) proposes the protection of around 9 million acres of public lands in Utah under the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is designed to permanently protect intact, high-quality ecosystems. The proposed wilderness lands are dominated by desert, grassland, and shrubland ecosystems within a landscape characterized by rugged mountains and red rock canyons, cliffs, mesas, and other natural formations. The area is home to many rare and/or endemic species and unique biological communities as well as extensive biological soil crusts that play a critical role in soil stabilization, water infiltration, and carbon sequestration in arid landscapes. However, these lands are also under high pressure from oil and gas drilling, mining, off-road vehicle use, and other human activities that degrade the landscape.
The overarching goal of this project was to determine whether and how passage of the ARRWA would advance climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. Objectives included:
  • Evaluate whether and how protection of ARRWA lands would impact ecosystem adaptation to climate change (e.g., protecting climate refugia, increasing landscape connectivity to facilitate species migration/dispersal and range shifts, reducing surface disturbances that exacerbate the impacts of climate change);
  • Estimate the amount of oil, gas, and coal resources that are likely present on ARRWA lands and the greenhouse gases that would be associated with the extraction and combustion of those resources;
  • Model the amount of carbon that would be sequestered and stored under future climate conditions if ARRWA lands remained undisturbed; and
  • Explore the role that reducing surface disturbance could play in maintaining ecosystem capacity for carbon sequestration and storage.