August 24, 2019

State Land Commissioner ‘recommits’ to protecting wildlife

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State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard

The State Land Office will expand efforts to include wildlife protections in future infrastructure projects. The office made a series of announcements at the recent Upper Rio Grande Wildlife Corridors Summit related to conservation in future State Land Office projects.

“I’m here to recommit not only myself, but the state land office, to being a partner in ensuring that wildlife corridors, wildlife crossings, are part of all of our infrastructure plans, our land management plans, our animal management plans,” State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said at the summit.

Howard Gross, assistant commissioner for surface resources at the State Land Office, said during a panel discussion at the summit that the agency’s mission is to optimize revenue generated from state trust lands, but the office also has a responsibility to protect “long-term health of those lands for future generations.”

“You might recognize a dichotomy in that mission between revenue generation and conservation. But I prefer to look at it as a yin and yang,” Gross said.

Under Garcia Richard’s direction, the office will begin incorporating landscape-level planning into resource management and infrastructure programs moving forward.

“Planning at this level is something the land office has not done before,” Gross said, adding that the department will create a new position for a landscape-level planner. 

“When you look at a map of New Mexico, you’ll see some pretty obvious contiguous state land plots that are ripe for this type of planning,” Gross said. “Some of these areas cover more than 100,000 acres in a chunk. We want to prioritize and plan for these critical landscapes in a way that allows us to better understand the resources present, the values that stakeholders place on those resources, how best to conserve them, and where leasing activities should and shouldn’t go.”

RELATED: To protect wildlife, state agencies pledge collaboration in wildlife corridors

“We hope to fill this position at the land office early in 2020,” he added.

The office will also propose a first-ever cultural properties rule in the fall, Gross said. The rule would require all parties involved in ground-disturbing activities on state trust land to conduct surveys for cultural resources to avoid impact.

“We’re also working to improve our best management practices for industry to follow, to reduce their impacts on state trust lands, especially in oil and gas fields,” Gross said.

The new additions and proposals are part of a wider comprehensive strategy of resource management and conservation at the department.

“We’re eager to incorporate protection of wildlife corridors, and we want to do that work in a collaborative way,” Gross said. “That includes supporting the wildlife corridors action plan, and looking for opportunities to work with departments of game and fish, transportation and other partners in implementing that plan.”