February 1, 2023

Bill to fund conservation programs passes committee

The New Mexico Reforestation Center would include a nursery to produce seedlings for reforestation.

State Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, spoke on Tuesday about the impacts of wildfire and how the runoff can remain a problem even decades after a burn occurs. He said that it is important to create a fund to help with conservation efforts, including measures to improve forest health.

Neville and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, are sponsoring Senate Bill 9, which would create an investment fund as well as a distribution fund to support conservation efforts in New Mexico. On the House side, the bill is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the legislation.

This bill passed the Senate Conservation Committee on a unanimous 7-0 vote on Tuesday. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

The investment fund, which would be called the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund, would receive an initial allocation of $25 million to invest. The distribution fund, which would be known as the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, would receive an initial investment of $50 million.

Neville said that the dollar amount is not set in stone. Some environmental advocacy groups are pushing for larger investments. This will likely be discussed during the Senate Finance Committee deliberations.

The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would further be distributed to various entities in the following ways:

  • 22.5 percent to the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The funding would be split evenly between the Natural Heritage Conservation Act program and programs related to forest health including programs created by the Prescribed Burning Act, the Forest Conservation Act and the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act.
  • 22.5 percent would go to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to support programs like Healthy Soils and noxious weed management. 
  • 10 percent would go to the New Mexico Environment Department for river stewardship. 
  • 15 percent would go to the Outdoor Recreation Division and would be used for the outdoor equity grant program and to build out infrastructure. 
  • 8 percent would go to the Department of Cultural Affairs to protect prehistoric and historic sites. 
  • 22 percent would go to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Wirth said the state currently has a large amount of nonrecurring funds and that makes it a good time to create the funds.

Legislators amended the bill on Tuesday to clarify that he money will not be used for eminent domain or condemnation of property.

Neville said the goal is to fund conservation programs, not to purchase property.

The funding could also be used as the required match to receive federal funding.