Rewilded Bison in Romania Prove Vital for Carbon Capture

photo of european bison close up by dan dinu

Once nearly extinct, European Bison are now pivotal in Romania’s fight against climate change, capturing tens of thousands of tons of CO2 annually. (Photo of european bison close up by Dan Dinu,

by | May 21, 2024

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According to Yale University research, rewilded European Bison in Romania’s Tarcu Mountains are significantly enhancing carbon capture. The impact of these efforts is comparable to removing up to 84,000 average gasoline-powered cars from roads.

European bison disappeared from the wild over 200 years ago due to habitat loss and extensive hunting. Starting in 2014, efforts to bring them back involved coordinated reintroduction programs by WWF Romania and Rewilding Europe. These initiatives included careful translocation, habitat restoration, and ongoing monitoring to ensure the bison could thrive in their natural environment again.

Rewilded Bison: Nature’s Climate Champions

The latest study from Yale University highlights the significant role rewilded European Bison can play in carbon capture, presenting a compelling case for rewilding as an effective climate solution. In the Tarcu Mountains of Romania, a herd of 170 European Bison is actively contributing to carbon sequestration, drawing down and storing approximately 59,000 tons of CO2 annually. This is nearly ten times the carbon capture rate of the same area without these majestic creatures.

The Yale School of the Environment, in collaboration with the Global Rewilding Alliance, has developed a sophisticated computer model to quantify the additional CO2 captured by wildlife interactions within ecosystems. The Yale/GRA Animating the Carbon Cycle (ACC) model integrates extensive field research to predict the impact of rewilding on carbon budgets. The initial findings from Romania illustrate the model’s potential to transform our approach to climate change mitigation.

The Yale/GRA ACC Model: Innovating Carbon Capture

The Yale/GRA ACC model represents a groundbreaking advancement in understanding the ecological impact of animal species on carbon storage. By analyzing the interactions between animals, plants, and microbes, the model demonstrates that the presence of wildlife fundamentally alters ecosystem dynamics, enhancing carbon capture and storage. In the case of the European Bison, their grazing behavior maintains a diverse mosaic of habitats, supporting a higher carbon sequestration rate.

Professor Oswald Schmitz of Yale University, a key model developer, emphasizes that wild animals can significantly boost an ecosystem’s carbon budget by 60-95% and in some cases, even more. This innovative approach aligns with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) top strategies for reducing net emissions, suggesting that rewilding could play a crucial role in global carbon management efforts.

A Pathway to Sustainable Climate Solutions

Rewilding efforts, such as those in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, enhance carbon capture and bring broader ecological and economic benefits. The reintroduction of European Bison has spurred nature-based tourism and fostered local economic growth. This initiative, supported by WWF Romania and Rewilding Europe, demonstrates the multifaceted advantages of rewilding.

The European Bison, a keystone species, significantly influences their environment by creating a rich tapestry of forests, grasslands, and micro-habitats. Their activities, such as grazing and seed dispersal, promote biodiversity and ecosystem health. The success of the reintroduction program has also fostered community engagement and support, highlighting the potential for rewilding to drive sustainable development.

As the Yale/GRA ACC model continues to be applied to landscapes worldwide, it offers a scientifically robust foundation for policymakers and conservationists. By leveraging the natural behaviors of wildlife, this approach presents a cost-effective and scalable solution to climate change, reinforcing the role of biodiversity in carbon management.

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