Copyright © 2021
When the Great American Outdoors Act went into effect last year, $ 900 million annually was donated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund on a permanent basis.
The fund has provided money for parks, trails, and outdoor recreational projects in New Mexico since the 1970s.
Now New Mexico is expected to receive approximately $ 5 million from the fund every year – an increase of $ 4 million.
But many communities cannot secure adequate funding to access the grant funds, and lawmakers and conservation groups are working to ensure the state doesn’t miss out on a major allocation of federal funds.
State Representative Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, backed a bill earlier this year to amend the State’s Conservation of Nature Act to give rural communities and small units more access to LWCF dollars.
“Our beautiful public land is inaccessible to many,” said Ortez, who also serves as the executive director of the Taos Land Trust. “I think now is the time to invest in our forests and our water, invest in our infrastructure and connect people to this land.”
State representative Kristina Ortez, D-Taos
The law was not passed this year. Ortez and a coalition of conservation groups are now supporting closer reforms that would give more state or political subdivisions the power to acquire land and water.
LWCF projects fall into two categories – acquisition and development – therefore acquisition authority is required to access all available funds.
Ortez said the change could help support acquisitions of small lots like an Acequia on private lots near Taos.
“We want someone like the county or the Acequia Association to own this land so we can put a trail and fence around the main gate,” said Ortez. “It borders Forest Service land, so it also provides a place for people to connect with the path that leads all the way to Angel Fire.”
The groups are also calling on lawmakers to allocate $ 20 million to the Natural Heritage Fund.
This money would support restoration projects for the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources and the purchase of conservation easements.
In New Mexico, LWCF funds are administered through two types of grants.
The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership is administered by the National Park Service, but grant applications are processed by the state.
A new award from this fund went to the city of Las Cruces for the renovation of Apodaca Park. The project includes the construction of paths, a new playground and a picnic area.
The second grant is known as the state and local aid program.
For the first time since 2006, EMNRD is seeking grant project proposals for the LWCF state and local aid funds.
The change is a direct result of the Great American Outdoors Act, said David Certain, director of the New Mexico State Parks program support office, which helps manage LWCF funds.
“When we were only getting $ 300,000 a year (for the state aid funds) and the State Parks system had a real need for that funding, it was an important source of funding for capital projects in the State Parks system,” said Certain. “But now that we are receiving $ 2.5-3 million annually, it is clear that this is an opportunity for us to share.”
Andre Miller, a Western Territories policy analyst with Western Resource Advocates, said adding acquisition powers to state law and increasing grant funding could help more communities enjoy new parks and open spaces.
“The state just doesn’t have a dedicated conservation funding distribution or source of income, so finding programs like LCWF is a long-term problem,” Miller said. “Communities most in need of this funding – mostly rural communities and tribes – are also the least likely to be.”
New Mexico cannot use the American Rescue Plan Act’s stimulus funds to “match” LWCF allocations.
The federal money cannot act as a counterweight to more federal dollars.
Colorado, Montana, and Arizona are all channeling state funds to grant programs similar to NHCA to give smaller entities access to more federal funding for conservation.
US Senator Martin Heinrich, co-sponsored the Great American Outdoors Act and was an outspoken supporter of full funding for the LWCF in the bill.
The New Mexico Democrat touts the fund as an effective tool to “open public access to our public land”.
“LWCF was instrumental in protecting valuable public areas such as the Valles Caldera National Preserve with its trout streams, high-altitude meadows and huge herds of elk,” said Heinrich. “It helped us build the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in the South Valley of Albuquerque. It bought and protected the entire Ute mountain, a centerpiece of the Rio Grande del Norte national monument. “
Heinrich said funding is critical to the local economy and the outdoor leisure industry.
“I continue to work to make LWCF funding more accessible to small and rural communities across New Mexico, and I applaud efforts at all levels to make this possible,” he said.
Theresa Davis is a member of the Report for America Corps, a water and environmental researcher for the .