March 1, 2023

Bill to create funding source for conservation projects advances

Hannah Grover

Fall colors are seen north of Chama

The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee passed a bill Tuesday on a 5-4 vote that would create a long-term funding stream for conservation projects.

SB 9, sponsored by state Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, would create two funds. One of these funds—the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund—would be distributed to various programs throughout the state for projects. The other fund—the Legacy Permanent Fund—would be invested and the proceeds would be used to fund the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund following the initial state investment to get the two funds started.

“The beauty of this bill is that it’s not creating new programs,” Wirth said.

Related: Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund passes Senate

He said the bill would provide funding for existing programs that were created through past legislation, including the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act that Wirth sponsored along with former Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, in 2019. Under SB 9, the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department would receive 22.5 percent of the Land of Enchantment Legacy funding to support programs and projects under the Forest Conservation Act, the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act, the Prescribed Burning Act and the National Heritage Conservation Act.

HB 2, the state budget, includes $100 million for the two funds set up in SB 9, though Wirth said he would like to see that figure increased to $350 million.

The bill has drawn support from a wide array of groups including energy companies like Chevron and environmental organizations like the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club. Opponents include some livestock groups that are concerned that the funds could be used to acquire private property.

Neville said that SB 9 does not amend any authority that state agencies currently have and that the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish already has the legal ability to purchase land based on appraised values.

Another bill that passed the Senate Rules Committee on Monday would require Legislative approval for large acquisitions of private property.

SB 9 now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.