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One Herd of 170 Bison Could Help Store CO2 Equivalent of 43,000 Cars in Romania

Image via NPS / Jacob W. Frank, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In an inspiring conservation effort, a herd of 170 European bison reintroduced to Romania’s Țarcu mountains could potentially help mitigate climate change by storing carbon emissions equivalent to removing 43,000 US cars from the road annually. This significant environmental impact highlights the role of large herbivores in ecosystem restoration and climate stabilization.

Reintroduction of European Bison

By Aleksomber – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

European bison, which disappeared from Romania over 200 years ago, were reintroduced to the southern Carpathian mountains by Rewilding Europe and WWF Romania in 2014. Since then, the population has grown to over 170, making it one of the largest free-roaming bison populations in Europe.

Impact on Carbon Storage

By Yellowstone National Park – Bison grazing near Roosevelt Arch in the spring, Public Domain,

Recent research by the Yale School of the Environment, funded by the Global Rewilding Alliance, reveals that the bison herd could capture an additional 54,000 tonnes of carbon annually. This figure equates to the yearly CO2 emissions of 43,000 average US petrol cars, underscoring the bison’s role in carbon sequestration.

Grazing and Ecosystem Benefits

American Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Image via Depositphotos

Bison grazing promotes plant growth and enhances soil health by recycling nutrients, dispersing seeds, and compacting the soil, which helps prevent stored carbon from being released. This natural process contributes to a balanced and biodiverse ecosystem.

The Importance of Bison in the Carbon Cycle

wood bison
Laura Whitehouse, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Professor Oswald Schmitz of the Yale School of the Environment explains that the removal of bison from ecosystems has historically led to significant carbon release. Reintroducing these herbivores can restore balance and aid in carbon storage.

Validation of Research Models

Image by Nicolas Petit via Pexels

Alexander Lees from Manchester Metropolitan University supports the study, emphasizing the need for more field research to validate the models and understand the time required for bison benefits to accrue. He highlights the crucial role of large mammals in the carbon cycle.

Bison as Keystone Species

European bison (Bison bonasus).
European bison (Bison bonasus). Image by bereta via Depositphotos

Bison are a keystone species, playing a vital role in maintaining diverse landscapes, including forests, scrub, grasslands, and microhabitats. Their presence supports biodiversity and enhances ecosystem resilience.

Economic and Tourism Benefits

American Bison.
American Bison. Image by dmbaker via Depositphotos

The return of bison to the Țarcu mountains has also spurred nature-based tourism and local businesses, creating a positive economic impact while promoting conservation awareness.

Specific Soil and Climate Conditions

Image by OndrejProsicky via Depositphotos

Schmitz notes that the Carpathian grasslands have unique soil and climate conditions, making the bison’s impact specific to the region. However, the principles can inform rewilding efforts in other ecosystems with appropriate adaptations.

Global Rewilding Initiatives

Wildlife in Europe. Bison herd in the autumn forest, sunny scene with big brown animal in the nature habitat, yellow leaves on the trees, Bialowieza NP, Poland. Wildlife scene from nature.

The success of the bison reintroduction in Romania can serve as a model for similar rewilding projects worldwide. Rewilding efforts offer a dual solution for biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation.

Policy Implications

Big old bison in nature.
Big old bison in nature. Image by fotoluxstudio via Depositphotos

The research provides valuable insights for climate policymakers, showing that nature restoration can significantly contribute to carbon drawdown and climate stabilization. Integrating wildlife reintroductions into climate strategies can yield substantial benefits.

Broader Species Considerations

Side profile close up of an American bison, also known as buffalo, with its tongue sticking out in Yellowstone National Park. Image by via Depositphotos

Schmitz’s team is investigating other species, such as tropical forest elephants and sea otters, which also show promise in enhancing ecosystem carbon storage. This approach could broaden the scope of nature-based climate solutions.

Learning from Rewilding Projects

Bison taking a break. Image by mike-beaumont Via unsplash

The report on Romania’s bison is pioneering, offering a powerful tool for guiding future wildlife reintroductions. Continuous learning and adaptation from these projects can optimize their ecological and climate benefits.

Future Research Directions

Small herd of the American bisons in the spring steppe covered by grass in the nature reserve against the background of the sky with clouds

Ongoing research will refine the understanding of how rewilding projects like this contribute to carbon sequestration. Long-term monitoring and field studies will enhance the accuracy and applicability of the models.


Adult female American bison and 1 week- and 1 month-old calves at the Prioksko-terrasny biosphere reserve, Russia. Image by oksanavg via Depositphotos

The reintroduction of European bison to Romania’s Țarcu mountains is a groundbreaking effort in conservation and climate action. By restoring these majestic animals to their natural habitat, we not only revive biodiversity but also leverage their ecological functions to combat climate change.

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