Following on the heels of her executive order in the fall to conserve at least 30 percent of the state’s land and water in order to “protect New Mexico’s lands, watersheds, wildlife and heritage,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced the state will pursue a $50 million general obligation bond in the upcoming 2022 legislative session to provide much-needed dedicated funding for a variety of existing conservation, restoration and natural resource management programs.
The Land of Enchantment Bond will be one of the governor’s signature agenda items in the upcoming 2022 legislative session and will supplement ongoing efforts to support and sustain New Mexico’s watersheds, wildlife, natural and working lands, scenic beauty and outdoor recreation.
The bond would be funded by a modest increase in state property taxes of about $2 per New Mexico household over the next 25 years. If passed during the legislative session, the bond proposal will appear on a statewide ballot for approval or rejection by New Mexico voters in November.
This is exciting news and, really, the culmination of the collective efforts of many different conservation, wildlife, agricultural and outdoor recreation organizations, going back almost 20 years, to establish dedicated state funding specifically for conservation in New Mexico. One of the important programs the bond funds would hopefully support is the Natural Heritage Conservation Program — designed to support conservation easements, restoration, forest health and watershed management projects.
This program, administered by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, has, unfortunately, received no funding since its creation in 2010. Without dedicated state funding, New Mexico misses out on millions of dollars through federal conservation programs that require non-federal matching funds. To adequately address the myriad challenges currently facing our state — and offset the impacts to our watersheds, forest health and water supply, wildlife and working lands caused by growth and development, prolonged drought and climate change, and increased wildfire — we need to fund more land conservation, restoration and better management of public, tribal and private lands.
Meeting the governor’s goals simply cannot be achieved through more public land acquisition alone. Anyone looking at a map of landownership in New Mexico can see that roughly 40 percent is public, 10 percent is tribal and the remaining 50 percent is private, and also see how intertwined these ownerships are. Rivers, wildlife, cultural resources and scenery don’t just stop at boundaries between public and private land.
Our watersheds consist of multiple ownerships and jurisdictions across the state and, therefore, conservation and restoration efforts need to be managed in an integrated and coordinated fashion, but sometimes with different solutions and approaches. The governor’s effort was never intended to just be a public lands initiative and, if it becomes only that in New Mexico, it will alienate a large portion of the population.
Conservation, restoration, agricultural and outdoor recreation groups have been working on and waiting for dedicated state funding for years. A bond like this will help state agencies and tribes as well as nonprofit organizations to leverage more federal funding to conserve and restore our land and watersheds, improve wildlife habitat and connectivity, and support healthy stewardship across the state for the benefit of all New Mexicans.
Land and water conservation is essential to the health of our watersheds, ecosystems and natural resources, and fundamental to the welfare of our local communities and economies, and our overall well-being. We are encouraged by this proposed conservation funding initiative and the governor’s commitment to addressing these timely and urgent issues facing New Mexico today.
Scott Wilber is the executive director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy and lives in Santa Fe.