Along the same lines, Nevada is also home to more wetland areas than generally perceived. Globally, wetlands generate more methane emissions than any other source and are a net emitter of GHGs (e.g., Moomaw et al., 2018). Nevada currently lacks a complete inventory of wetland systems, thereby limiting the state’s ability to accurately calculate carbon flux. Changes in soil, water, and ambient temperature can further alter the carbon balance of wetlands in either direction. Despite the complexities of GHG emissions associated with wetlands, these systems do provide ecosystem services including stormwater capture and infiltration, recreational opportunities, and refuge for wildlife.
Forests in Nevada can and do sequester carbon. However, burning forests and other vegetation releases GHGs back into the atmosphere, driving a short-term increase in emissions. The fire cycle in Nevada is markedly different than it was 100 years ago and has shifted even in the last several decades. The evolution of the contemporary fire cycle has been attributed to complex variables including the century-long federal practice of fire suppression and climate change. Poor forest and rangeland health, as well as increasing temperatures and drying vegetation—spanning both public and private land ownership boundaries—has impacted the fire regime with increased fuel loads. Expansion of pinyon-juniper woodlands and dramatic increases in annual, invasive species such as cheatgrass are replacing sagebrush and native habitats and vegetation communities. These changes are altering the timing, frequency, duration, and intensity of wildfires throughout the West, and ultimately, the fire management and suppression strategies.
Land management, particularly of forests and rangelands, is a focal point in the prevention and mitigation of the large-scale fires that have been impacting Nevada. This is particularly important for the protection of people and property at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), but also in ensuring that the landscape in Nevada does not become a net source of GHG emissions.
Undisturbed landscapes have the most potential to sequester carbon. However, there are examples of landscape degradation across Nevada that can compromise the natural processes that balance carbon between the atmosphere and the landscape. These include over-grazed land, non-reclaimed mining sites, and the lack of old-growth forests due to over-harvesting.
Maintaining the landscape’s integrity also has other benefits. For instance, desert “crusts” across the Southwest United States keep sand and soil on the ground, reducing the severity of wind-driven dust storms. These storms not only expose people to dust particles, but also heavy metal pollutants, chemicals, and bacteria that impact public health. This is one example of why land use and expanding the footprint of development, commercial, industrial, and outdoor recreation activities must be carefully considered.