The state Senate passed a bill on a 33-7 vote on Tuesday that would create a dedicated funding stream for land, water and cultural conservation projects.
SB 6, sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, received bipartisan support.
It would create the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund as well as the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. The Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund would be an investment fund and the money that is made off of those investments would eventually support the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund.
HB 2, which establishes the budget, also calls for $100 million for the two funds.
Wirth says he envisions $50 million going to the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund and another $50 million going to the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund.
Starting next year, the legislation calls for providing $12.5 million or 25 percent of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund to programs throughout the state.
The legislation further breaks down percentages of where the money in the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be spent. For example, 15 percent of the money would go to the Economic Development Department where a quarter of it would be used for the outdoor equity grant program and the remainder would go to special projects and outdoor recreation infrastructure.
Twenty-two percent of the money would go to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The bill states that the department would use that money for “the protection and propagation of game and fish.”
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, attempted to amend the language on the Senate floor to change the wording to state that the Department of Game and Fish would use the funds for the “protection of game, fish and non-game species.”
Steinborn said vulnerable species, or species of greatest conservation needs, do not have a dedicated funding stream in New Mexico.
“We have over 500 species listed as vulnerable species in one of the most biodiverse states in the country,” he said, adding that there are only around 20 game species in the state.
But Wirth and Neville said that the amendment was not necessary because the language would still allow the Department of Game and Fish to use the funding to protect those vulnerable, non-game species.
Neville said that he and Wirth opposed the amendment not because of Steinborn’s intent, but because it was unnecessary.
Ultimately, the amendment failed on a 7-32 vote.
After that vote, Steinborn urged conservation advocates to keep a close eye on how the money from the fund is spent by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to ensure that it is actually used to protect vulnerable species.
Most of the concerns that opponents had surrounded the potential for funding to be used by a state department to purchase private property.
SB 9 now heads to the state House of Representatives.