Maintaining healthy water catchment areas, reducing the risk of forest fires, improving biodiversity, and protecting endangered species have become more difficult with the warming New Mexico climate – and the state’s environmental managers think a
A $ 50 million general pledge would help a lot.
The Lujan Grisham government will ask lawmakers in the coming 30-day legislative term to submit the so-called Land of Enchantment Loan to voters in November to increase the state’s conservation funding.
In what is likely the first statewide conservation loan, backers would create a stable and secure source of funding to carry out projects critical to New Mexico’s environmental health.
These include restoring forests and watersheds, thinning trees, preserving historic sites, improving agricultural land to increase carbon sequestration, buying or setting aside land for conservation, and expanding outdoor recreation.
Civil servants now have to apply for funding from lawmakers every year, apply for grants, or cash out on available revenue that can be hit or miss depending on the economic climate.
“It would be difficult for us to achieve our goals if we did not find new sources of funding,” said Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary for the Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. “We have to be creative and pursue all options.”
The bond would be paid at a property tax that would cost the average household a total of $ 2 over a 25-year period, Cottrell Propst said.
Some important projects are now underfunded, and some good ideas never get off the ground due to a lack of funds, said State Ranger Laura McCarthy.
“We kept proposing more projects than we had funds,” said McCarthy.
Cottrell Propst said cities and counties in the state have shown strong support for conservation bonds, approving 16 of them since 1988 with total funding of more than $ 80 million.
During the same period, 51 conservation bonds were passed in other states, she said.
“It is a well-known and widely used tool across the country and locally in New Mexico,” said Cottrell Propst. “We think it is time to look into this at the country level.”
Protect the past and the future
As a preliminary plan, the $ 50 million would be split among half a dozen agencies who would use the funds to oversee various tasks.
Legislators have the final say on how much money each agency receives.
The plan calls for the State Department of Cultural Affairs to receive $ 7 million to improve and preserve historic sites.
Best examples are the Jemez National Historic Landmark, Fort Stanton, Coronado, and areas in the Bosque.
The Cottrell Propst agency would use $ 12 million to create easements and restore watersheds using a 2010 state law called the Natural Heritage Conservation Act.
The law gives their agency the authority to establish easements for projects to improve water quality, protect wildlife, preserve cultural sites, and create recreational opportunities, but no funding beyond the initial $ 5 million in entry fee was ever funded.
This is an example of a dormant program that could revive borrowing money, she said. New projects would be welcome, but there is no need to create new programs as the blueprints already exist to help the environment, she said.
“There are a lot of really good architectures out there,” said Cottrell Propst. “Let’s use it. Let’s finance it. “
One place that could benefit from an easement is the Bioresearch Ranch in the Peloncillo Mountains, about 80 kilometers north of the Mexican border. It has been operated as an ecological research and monitoring site since 1973.
It’s one of the most biodiverse areas in the Apache Highlands and contains many high priority habitats, said Cottrell Propst.
In the north, the loan could help pay for watershed work in Taos Canyon to reduce the risk of forest fires for hundreds of homes, recreational areas and the Rio Fernandez, which flows to 23 Acequias, she said.
The funding could also boost restoration efforts around Santa Clara Pueblo, which include wetlands, bosques and areas damaged by the Las Conchas fire in 2011, she said.
Scott Wilbur, executive director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy, said the initiative should extend to private property, which makes up half of the land within the state.
Some of the money should go towards establishing easements on private land and helping owners achieve best conservation practices, Wilbur said.
Improving public land alone will not be enough to meet Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s “30 by 30” target, Wilbur said, referring to her order that 30 percent of New Mexico’s public land will be protected by 2030 should.
“Water and wildlife don’t stop at borders,” said Wilbur.
Response to climate change
A major goal would be thinning forests through selective logging and mandatory burning to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire as a changing climate dries up trees and vegetation.
One priority area is the Greater Santa Fe Fireshed in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and another is near the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in Colfax County, McCarthy said.
That’s the part of the state with the thickest snowpack and it feeds the Rio Grande, she said.
“We need to make sure these watersheds stay healthy,” said McCarthy.
In addition, the Department of the Environment would receive $ 7 million for its river stewardship program, and the Department of Wildlife and Fish would receive $ 2.5 million for wildlife and habitat management, which includes the purchase of land for protection could.
The bond would also provide the money needed to raise federal dollars for various projects, McCarthy said. This includes the soil and nature conservation districts, which have to cover the funds from the Federal Agriculture Act.
“They’re leaving federal funds on the table because New Mexico doesn’t have enough room for maneuver for the state to get its fair share,” McCarthy said.
Peter Vigil of the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District said everyone could use more funding, especially the districts that rely solely on external funding.
In order to combat climate change, the districts are trying to make the soil more able to absorb carbon, he said. They work with farmers to plow less, use fewer chemicals and get more organic matter into the topsoil.
“We want to help landowners better manage their land, and that is how we are helping the planet,” Vigil said.
Increasing the budget would of course help his district and others do it, he said.
“Anything that helps the land and water counties will help the landowners of New Mexico,” Vigil said.
Proposed bond funding from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Agencies: $ 12 million Ministry of Agriculture: $ 12 million Environment department: $ 7 million Economic Development Department: $ 9.5 million Department for
$ 7 million Game and fish department: $ 2.5 million