Plants growing along New Mexico’s 7,500 miles of state roadways sequester – or absorb – one million tons of carbon each year. Now New Mexico is trying to increase this effect.


Wessel: “By altering our management practices within our rights of way, we can promote the sequestering of carbon and actually increase net carbon sequestered in the soil.”

That’s Rick Wessel with the New Mexico Department of Transportation. He says the roadside plantings had to be safe for travelers and any changes had to be easy to adopt.

So instead of planting trees, the department is experimenting to find the optimal mix of native plants, including restoring some of the short grass prairie. Leaving the grass six inches long instead of the customary three inches when mowing allows the plant to put more energy into growing roots, which sequesters more carbon underground.

Now in the last year of a five-year pilot program, New Mexico is crunching the numbers to figure out how much extra carbon their simple changes have netted. Wessel says early results are promising.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: An example of the kind of native vegetation growing in New Mexico that the New Mexico Department of Transportation is quantifying to determine the amount of CO2 that can be sequestered (source: NM Department of Transportation).

More Resources
Estimated Land Available for Carbon Sequestration in the National Highway System (FHA Carbon Sequestration Pilot Program)
Assessing the Potential to Sequester Carbon within State Highway Rights-of-way in New Mexico

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...