New Mexico’s warming climate makes it more difficult for environmental managers to preserve endangered species, maintain healthy watersheds and reduce wildfire risk.
A $50 million general obligation bonds would be greatly helpful.
The Lujan Grisham administration is asking lawmakers to approve the Land of Enchantment bond to be presented to voters in November. This will increase state conservation funding.
It would likely be the first state conservation bond. Supporters claim it would provide a stable and reliable funding source for projects critical to New Mexico’s environmental health.
These include restoring and watersheds, thinning, preserving historic sites and enhancing farm soil to increase carbon capture, buying or setting aside land, expanding outdoor recreation and expanding.
Officials must now request funding from the Legislature each year, apply for grants, or pull money from available revenue. This can be hit and miss depending on the economy.
Without new funding sources, it would be difficult to achieve our goals, said Sarah Cottrell Propst, Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department Secretary. We believe we must be creative and explore all options.
Cottrell Propst stated that the bond would be paid for by a property tax, which would cost the average household $2 over a 25 year period.
State Forester Laura McCarthy stated that some important projects are not being funded and that some good ideas don’t get off the ground because of lack of funding.
McCarthy stated that there are always more projects being proposed than we have funds for.
Cottrell Propst noted that the state’s cities and counties have shown strong support of conservation bonds. They have approved 16 of them since 1988. This totals more than $80 millions in funding.
She stated that 51 conservation bonds were passed in other states over the same period.
It’s a well-known tool that is used extensively in the US and New Mexico, Cottrell propst said. It is time to think about it at the state level, we believe.
Protecting the future and past
The $50 million has already been divided up among a half dozen agencies that would use it to oversee different tasks.
The final decision about how much money each agency receives will be made by lawmakers.
The plan calls for $7 million in funding to the state Department of Cultural Affairs for historic preservation and enhancement.
Examples of prime examples include the Jemez National Historic Landmark Fort Stanton and Coronado as well as areas in the bosque.
Cottrell Propsts agency would spend $12 million to create conservation easements, restore watershed areas, and use a 2010 state law called Natural Heritage Conservation Act.
The law gives her agency the authority and power to establish easements for projects that improve water quality, conserve wildlife habitat, preserve cultural sites, and create recreational opportunities. However it has never been funded beyond the initial $5million in startup money.
She said that this is an example of a program that bond money could revive. She stated that new projects would be welcomed, but there’s no need for new programs, as the blueprints already exist to improve the environment.
Cottrell Propst stated that there is a lot of really great architecture. Let’s put it to work. Let’s finance it.
The Bioresearch Ranch, located in the Peloncillo mountains, 50 miles north of Mexico border, is one place that could be protected. It has been used as an ecological research and monitoring station since 1973.
It is one the most biodiverse lands of the Apache Highlands, and it contains a lot high-priority habitat.
The bond could be used to pay for watershed improvements in Taos Canyon, to reduce wildfire risk to hundreds of homes and recreational sites.
She said that the funding could also be used to boost restoration efforts around Santa Clara Pueblo. This includes wetlands and areas damaged in the 2011 Las Conchas Fire.
Scott Wilbur, executive Director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy, stated that the initiative should be extended to private property, which accounts for half the state’s land.
Wilbur said that some of this money should go towards establishing easements for private land and helping owners to adopt best conservation practices.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grishams 30-by-30 goal, Wilbur said. Wilbur was referring specifically to her executive order that required New Mexico to have 30 percent of its public lands protected by 2030.
Wilbur stated that water and wildlife don’t stop at borders.
Climate change response
The key objective is to reduce the chances of a catastrophe blaze in forests by using prescribed burning and selective cutting. This is because a changing climate drys out trees and vegetation.
McCarthy stated that the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed is one area of priority in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. McCarthy also mentioned another area near the Enchanted circle Scenic Byway in Colfax County.
This is the region with the highest snowpack and it feeds Rio Grande, she stated.
McCarthy stated that it is important to maintain the health of these watersheds.
Additionally, the Environment Department would be awarded $7 million for its river stewardship programs, and the Game and Fish Department $2.5 million to manage habitat and wildlife. This could also include purchasing land to protect.
McCarthy stated that the bond would also provide matching money to help obtain federal dollars for different projects. This would include soil conservation districts, which must match funds from federal Farm Bill.
McCarthy stated that they are leaving federal money on their table because New Mexico has not received enough state matching to ensure New Mexico gets its fair share.
Peter Vigil, Taos Soil & Water Conservation District, stated that everyone could use more funding. This is especially true for districts that rely on outside funds.
He said that districts are working to improve the soil’s ability to absorb carbon to combat climate change. They work with farmers in order to plow less, use less chemicals, and increase the organic matter in topsoil.
Vigil stated, “We want to help landowners become more responsible stewards of the lands they own.”
He said that a funding increase would be a natural aid to his district and other participants in this endeavor.
Vigil stated that anything that helps soil and water conservation districts will help landowners in New Mexico.
Proposed bond funding for agencies Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department $12 MillionDepartment of Agriculture $12 Million Environment Department: $7 Million Economic Development Department: $9.5 Million Department of
$7 Million Department of Game and Fish $2.5 million