SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico is inching closer to getting long-term funding for environmental conservation projects across the state. But disagreements between legislators could cause trouble for the plan to set up conservation funds.
Earlier this year, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an idea to create a conservation-focused funding program for the state. A key feature of the idea is using state funds to increase access to federal funding.
The Governor’s Office described the idea as “the state’s first-ever dedicated source of recurring funding for conservation, prioritizing land and water stewardship, forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation and infrastructure, agriculture and working lands, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection.”
But for that to happen, the idea first has to survive multiple rounds of debate in the Roundhouse. Tuesday, February 28, the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee was divided on the bill to set up the funds.
A key sticking point is whether or not the funds could be used for land acquisition. That’s something New Mexico’s cattle growers and wool growers spoke in opposition of.
“This is a conservation bill. And I would like to keep it as a conservation bill and not have any land acquisition in it. And I know that it doesn’t state in the bill that there’s land acquisition, but the problem is whenever [funding] goes into the Game and Fish Department protection fund, that it’s going into, that allows for the acquisition of private property. That’s the problem that I have with this bill.” said Bronson Corn from the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association.
To that point, Rep. James G. Townsend (R-Chaves, Eddy & Otero) asked the bill sponsors why the bill can’t simply prohibit the acquisition of lands with the funds. Sen Steven P. Neville (R-San Juan) explained that the easiest way to get these large funds set up is to do so within existing laws, and that means not changing the laws now to prohibit government agencies from purchasing private land they’ve been legally allowed to purchase in the past.
“The way we got everybody to kind of come together on this bill was not to change current statute. Yes, a couple agencies have some authority to purchase land,” Neville explained. “I’ve got the word of Game and Fish, that [purchasing land] is not their intent to use this money. This money is for their game-protection activities.”
A long line of people spoke in support of the idea to set up conservation funds. “We are just one more group among the farmers, ranchers, landowners, and conservationists, and environmentalists who support this inspiring and common sense bill,” said an eighth grader from the Santa Fe Girls’ School.
Ultimately, the committee voted to move the bill forward on Tuesday. But it was a close vote with five legislators in support and four in opposition. Next, the bill will be debated in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.