Carbon pools and decision support tools in New Mexico

Abiquiu, NM by Joonyeop Baek (

Recent interest in carbon and ecosystem services markets may expose limitations in our ability to accurately measure and estimate carbon and other greenhouse gas stores. There is burgeoning interest in applying a market-based system to the challenge of GHG mitigation, but this system may only be viable in specific regions with specific management actions. To investigate if a carbon market could serve as a value-added financial option for producers in New Mexico (NM), the USDA Southwest Climate Hub partnered with the NM Department of Agriculture working lands group. The project has science synthesis, tool evaluation and producer listening session phases. With this effort, we aim to enhance producers’ ability to evaluate current carbon stores on NM lands to support economic and environmental land management decision-making.

Science synthesis: A literature and data synthesis to identify the range of baseline carbon stores revealed 12 studies estimating carbon values across NM landscapes -- from the arid southern deserts to the northern forests. We used these studies and other data to estimate soil organic carbon and biomass carbon pools and their variability across land cover types. While conservation practices and proper land management can lead to increased carbon sequestration, carbon is dynamic, highly variable across the landscape and influenced by many factors beyond land management practices. The synthesis revealed data gaps in carbon sequestration research in NM and signaled a need for more in-depth and precise carbon estimation studies. We used the synthesized carbon information to investigate how commonly used tools measure up to observed data.

Tool evaluation: Existing tools to estimate the carbon storage potential of different land types and management actions are often at a national scale. These tools may not adequately incorporate the nuances of land management and potential at a state or local level, especially in the arid or semiarid Southwest. We compiled a collection of 73 decision-support tools related to land management and carbon sequestration and refined this to a short list of 5 tools that are easy to use and provide carbon estimates. These tools include Carbon Management Evaluation Tool (COMET), Carbon Reduction Potential Evaluation (CaRPE), Carbon OnLineEstimator (COLE), Carbon Benefit Project (CBP), and the Cool Farm tool. The tools allow for evaluation trade-offs regarding carbon storage as compared with other management options.

Listening sessions: The SWCH team will host a virtual scientist-stakeholder conversation on June 2, 2021. If you are interested in joining the listening session, please register here.

Dr. Joel Brown, SWCH co-lead, will be leading a second listening session at the upcoming NM Cattle Growers' summer meeting.

This article in Farm Journal shares additional ideas for producers about navigating carbon markets.

Article by Emile Elias and Lauren Kramer

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