Historic Land & Water Conservation Proposal Welcomed by Broad Coalition of New Mexicans

Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would create NM’s first dedicated funding stream for land & water conservation

Santa Fe, N.M. – January 26, 2023 – Today a broad coalition of New Mexico organizations welcomed a bipartisan legislative proposal to create the state’s first dedicated and long-term funding stream for land and water conservation. 

SB9, the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would invest in existing state programs to leverage federal funds to protect New Mexico communities from wildfire, flood and drought, safeguard urban and rural water supplies, support rural and agricultural communities, and grow our outdoor recreation economy. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Steven Neville (R), Peter Wirth (D) and Rep. Nathan Small (D), building on the vision laid out by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in her executive budget recommendation

The Fund is a bipartisan product of five years’ negotiations among a broad coalition of legislators, state agencies, community stakeholders and non-governmental organizations. Quotes from individual organizations are included below and more information can be found here. The text of the bill can be viewed here

Beginning with an initial investment of $50 million, the Fund would make annual disbursements starting in fiscal year 2024 to programs at six agencies, including the Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), Department of Agriculture (NMDA), Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), Environment Department (NMED), Economic Development Department (EDD), and Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). These existing programs prioritize land and water conservation, forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation and infrastructure, agriculture and working lands, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection.

A second, permanent trust fund would be established with an initial investment of $25 million that would be managed by the State Investment Council, similar to the Early Childhood Education and Care Fund. Interest earned would be disbursed annually to existing state programs that have a proven track record of success, are popular in communities, or have rarely been funded to their full potential. 

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund represents a significant long-term investment in our watersheds and water infrastructure at a pivotal time for New Mexico,” said Steven Fry, projects and policy specialist with Amigos Bravos. “Lack of historical funding combined with an increasingly arid climate and wildfires have caused severe degradation of riparian corridors and wetlands which are critical to protecting water quality and quantity. This Fund will enable stakeholders to prioritize restoration in their local watersheds through the River Stewardship program and the Forest & Watershed Restoration Act, while also improving habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for all New Mexicans.”

“This is an incredible opportunity to help protect birds and the places they need to survive and thrive,” said Judy Calman, New Mexico policy director for The Audubon Society. “By investing in restoration of riparian habitats through the River Stewardship program and in species of concern through the Game and Fish Department, the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be a critical tool to help birds weather the effects of climate change.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is not just about ensuring that New Mexico can access all available funds for conserving and protecting New Mexico’s unique and treasured lands, waters, wildlife, and natural heritage,” said Demis Foster, executive director at Conservation Voters New Mexico. “It is about ensuring that we can conduct thoughtful long-term planning that engages all of our state’s diverse communities so that we can create climate-resilient landscapes and watersheds that benefit generations of New Mexicans all across the state. We applaud Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and her administration for prioritizing this essential Fund, which, if passed by the legislature, would be the most significant state conservation funding commitment in New Mexico history.”

“New Mexico is severely challenged by the effects of climate change, but these investments will ensure we can leverage federal dollars and maintain the necessary resources to protect our wildlife,” said Bryan Bird, Southwest program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re excited that the Fund emphasizes fish and wildlife conservation and would provide the state’s first ever dedicated funding stream to benefit river habitat, improve watershed health, and conserve the state’s unique biodiversity.” 

“We have an historic opportunity to protect our landscapes and natural resources for generations to come during this 2023 legislative session,” said Patrick Nolan, executive director of Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. “The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will direct resources towards the protection of our shared public lands and allow the state to leverage federal dollars, such as the Land & Water Conservation Fund, that we have been unable to utilize in years past. Permanently funding the Outdoor Equity Fund will promote access and foster the next generation of environmental stewards. Our state elected officials have an amazing opportunity to protect one of our greatest legacies as a state, our one of a kind desert landscapes.” 

“The health of New Mexico’s broad landscapes and ecosystems are crucial to its national parks, and the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will play a big role in conserving natural and cultural landscapes across the state,” said Emily Wolf, New Mexico senior program coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association. “In addition, this investment is an excellent step that will make our state more resilient to the dangers of climate change.”

“Acequias have been the lifeblood of many New Mexico communities for centuries, and we need to do everything we can to protect the watershed systems they depend on and contribute to,” said Ralph Vigil, chairman of the New Mexico Acequia Commission. “The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would unlock much-needed state and federal funding opportunities for acequias, providing more long-term stability to our community waterways that continue to be devastated by wildfires, flood, and drought.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be very beneficial to Soil and Water Conservation Districts to assist working lands farmers and ranchers,” said Debbie Hughes, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts executive director. “Putting conservation practices on the ground like water storage and doing forest thinning are just a couple of examples that will help landowners prepare for the next drought while avoiding catastrophic fires and bringing more federal dollars to New Mexico.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is an investment in the future of New Mexico’s land, water, wildlife and wide open spaces,” said Scott Wilber, executive director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy. “Having this type of dedicated state funding will enable New Mexico to leverage and match substantial federal funding for conservation, restoration and best management practices, as well as outdoor recreation opportunities.  It will also give the state the resources to directly fund smaller projects that may be significant for local communities but that may not be eligible or competitive for federal funding. The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund can help ensure that the incredible natural and cultural heritage we have received is the legacy we leave for future generations of New Mexicans.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is an historic opportunity to ensure communities across the state have the resources they need to protect and safeguard the lands and waters on which we all rely,” said Mark Allison, executive director at New Mexico Wild. “New Mexico continues to face unprecedented impacts across the state due to the dual crises of climate change and mass species extinction –from aridification to flooding to wildfires, the stakes have never been higher. The time is now to invest in building the climate resilience we need to ensure these special places thrive for generations to come.”

“State investments in the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund could leverage federal dollars through the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts, which provides grants to New Mexico for important fish and wildlife habitat restoration projects,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Now’s the time for New Mexico to take bold steps to protect our land, water and wildlife.  This may be our state’s last, best chance to set aside the necessary resources to make this permanent investment to help protect our state and our wildlife from the rising dangers of future climate change, drought and fire.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is an incredible opportunity to secure permanent funding for the continued management of our communities’ lands and waters, as well as for the Outdoor Equity Fund — an integral tool to help ensure youth from New Mexico’s culturally and ethnically diverse communities have access to the outdoors,” said Kacey Hovden, New Mexico program manager at Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project. “New Mexico’s vast and diverse landscapes, from our mountain ranges to our working lands, hold historical, ancestral, and cultural ties and traditions deep within their soils and flowing waters. These lands are a source of life for many of New Mexico’s communities, and are often the next generation’s first connection to their roots and to the rest of the world. By providing the resources necessary for our communities to not only continue their stewardship of, but to also connect their youth with the lands they call home, the state of New Mexico can ensure that it remains the Land of Enchantment for generations to come.” 

“Outdoor Industry Association and our members celebrate the introduction of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and the trust,” said Rebecca Gillis, state and local government affairs manager, Outdoor Industry Association. New Mexico is home to some of the nation’s most beautiful landscapes. We praise state lawmakers for making these smart investments designed to advance stewardship of those resources. This proposal has the added benefit of growing the outdoor recreation economy and supporting 28,000 New Mexicans who rely on the industry for their livelihoods. We are excited to see momentum picking up for this bill, which will have tremendous long-term conservation and economic benefits. Building strong outdoor economies requires collaboration across the public, private, and non-profit sectors. The fund is an excellent example of elected officials and stakeholders coming together to make long-term investments in the state’s outdoor recreation economy, the environment, biodiversity, and outdoor recreationists. New Mexico is setting a new standard for how to thoughtfully invest surplus budget funds to ensure all New Mexicans have the opportunity to steward and enjoy the state’s beautiful outdoor scapes.”

“Two of the most important aspects for farmers and ranchers are the soil and water that they use to grow their crops and sustain their livestock,” said Chad Franke, president of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would be an invaluable asset in the continuation of programs within the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and other state entities to address the dire water issues in New Mexico and throughout the West, as well as continue funding for the Healthy Soil Program. We at Rocky Mountain Farmers Union were excited to see Governor Lujan Grisham’s commitment to the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and to the continuation of conservation programs aimed at ensuring New Mexico agriculture will continue to thrive long into the future.” 

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be a significant step forward for conservation and outdoor equity projects in New Mexico,” said Sarah Noss, executive director of the Santa Fe Conservation Trust. “It will fund existing state programs that advance our shared mission of protecting culturally and environmentally significant landscapes, igniting people’s passion for nature, and enabling the continual regeneration of our healthy place.”

“Because of the Outdoor Equity Fund,The Semilla Project was able to implement youth outdoor programs,” said Jared Berenice Estrada, The Semilla Project campaigns and programs director. “The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would create recurring funding for the Outdoor Equity Fund that would continue providing our BIPOC youth the opportunity to discover outdoor recreational experiences that will connect them to the land and activate them to act on climate solutions, and conservation efforts in New Mexico.” 

“Natural beauty and nourishing lands and waters are why we live here and stay here,” said Luis Guerrero, legislative and political organizer for the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. “This investment in every corner of our home means safety and security for the unique quality of life we value here. This Fund helps protect us from climate-driven disasters and is crucial to protecting the places that sustain and inspire us. We thank Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the bill sponsors for making this strong investment in conservation and protecting the beauty of the natural resources in New Mexico.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is a critical tool for building climate resilience and conserving New Mexico’s lands and waters for generations to come,” said Elle Benson, Southwestern water program coordinator at Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “With a historic amount of federal funding paired with an immense need for conservation and restoration across the state, the moment is ripe to invest in opportunities that promote conservation, restoration, and resilience. This type of investment will be crucial to providing clean habitat and to ensuring that sportsmen and women across the state have access to quality places to hunt and fish.” 

“Persistent drought and its effects demand that we confront the wear and tear on our streams, forests, and agricultural lands with proactive and regenerative action,” said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico water and habitat program manager at Trout Unlimited. “Such restoration requires adequate and recurring investment, without which we imperil the economic and cultural resilience of our rural communities. The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is simply our best path forward.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, a bi-partisan conservation priority for New Mexicans, will create the state’s first dedicated source of public funding to make our communities healthier and more livable and better able to adapt to the realities of a changing climate,” said Greg Hiner, director of land protection for Trust for Public Land. “Creation of the Fund will put New Mexico on par with other western states that have dedicated funding, which can be used to leverage federal dollars to make investments that strengthen our outdoor recreation economy and protect our lands, waters and communities.”

“The security and well-being of all New Mexicans ties directly back to our land and natural resources,” said Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance. “Without improving our water supply through better watershed management, we can’t build affordable homes, create businesses or support jobs. Without healthy soil, we can’t grow food. We can still restore and conserve our land, water and wildlife but we need to act now because these resources are disappearing. The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is the right investment at the right time to ensure New Mexico has a future.” 

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be a critical tool for New Mexico to achieve the state’s conservation, preservation, restoration, and climate resilience goals,” said Dr. Brittany Fallon, western lands senior policy manager at Western Resource Advocates. “New Mexico is home to one of the most diverse landscapes in the U.S., yet the state has no permanent source of conservation funding. This leaves millions of available federal funds on the table each year instead of being put to use in our communities. But now, thanks to dual leadership from the Governor and legislative champions, the Fund is poised to infuse a meaningful amount of money into protecting and restoring the lands and waters that are vital to the cultural heritage, public health, and economic lives of New Mexicans.”

“The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund represents a critical investment in New Mexico’s future,” said Michael Dax, western program director at Wildlands Network. “As we fight the long-term impacts of climate change, we also need to mitigate the effects our lands, waters and wildlife are already experiencing, and this investment will be an important step towards achieving that goal.”

Contact; Jake McCook, jake@mccookstrategies.com, 505-681-4455 

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