A bill to establish dedicated and permanent sources of funding for land, water and habitat conservation projects has passed the New Mexico Legislature and is headed to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who advocated for the legislation at the start of the session.
Senate Bill 9, supported by a coalition of about 36 environmental, conservation and land management groups in New Mexico and elsewhere, passed the state House of Representatives Sunday by a vote of 54-11.
It had passed the Senate on Feb. 14 by a vote of 33-7. Bill sponsors are Sens. Steven Neville (R-San Juan County) and Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe County). Rep. Nathan Small (D-Dona Ana County) also advocated for the bill.
SB 9 will create two funds, the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund and the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, as part of the existing Miscellaneous Natural Resource Matters law. Under the amended bill passed by both chambers, at least $50 million will be allocated each year starting in 2024 for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, with $12.5 million, or 25% of the fund, whichever is greater, being disbursed annually to six state departments and their existing resource stewardship programs.
Another $25 million would be allocated in fiscal year 2024 as an initial investment in the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund, which would use it for long-term investment. If the balance of the permanent fund exceeds $150 million, any income earned above $5 million would go to the legacy fund. Advocates are hoping that even more — up to a combined $350 million for the two funds — will be allocated in the budget, House Bill 2.
Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, which has an administrative office in Santa Fe and represents people in eight Western states and Canada, called the funds a “visionary investment in our shared future" after the House vote. In a prior interview, she said that dedicated monies are needed by state agencies to ensure that New Mexico can provide matching funding for large federal grants needed to undertake multistate and multijurisdictional conservation projects. The money could be used for preventing forest fires, preserving and enhancing water sources, combating soil erosion, repairing watersheds, protecting endangered animal and plant species, and fighting invasive species.
Three groups had spoken in opposition to one aspect of the bill during committee meetings: that it will allow state agencies to continue their practice of using state funding to buy private lands for conservation purposes.
Bronson Corn, president of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said Monday that his group voiced its opposition to that aspect of SB 9 throughout the legislative consideration process.
“The state is not a good steward of the land,” he said. “They have shown that over and over again. That land should remain in production as agricultural land.”
He said that his group supports permanent conservation funding and that state agency representatives have represented that their current policy is to buy small tracts. However, Corn said he and others might want to push next year for legislation that would establish a cap for how much land could be purchased using the public funding.
Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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