March 10, 2023

Conservation permanent fund heads to House floor

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

The Rio Grande is pictured in May, 2021.

A bill seeking to create a permanent fund to support conservation programs is headed to the House floor after passing the House Appropriation and Finance Committee on a 17-1 vote on Thursday.

SB 9 creates two funds—one is a permanent fund that would be used to generate additional funds and the other that would be used to directly fund various conservation programs. The money generated by the interest accrued by permanent fund will be transferred to the other fund where it will be allocated to various programs based on set percentages.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, highlighted some of the programs that could benefit from it, including prescribed burning, noxious weed management, healthy soils, river stewardship, outdoor recreation infrastructure and protection of cultural properties. Wirth sponsored the bill.

While SB 9 is supported by a variety of groups including energy developers and environmental advocacy groups, some opponents include livestock agencies like New Mexico Cattle Growers Association. The opponents say they are concerned that the funding could be used by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to acquire private property.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, said the bill is about funding.

“It’s dollars on the ground where it needs to be,” he said.

He said if legislators want to limit the ability for an agency like the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to acquire property, that can be done through separate legislation.

While several of the committee members expressed concerns about the land acquisition potential, many of them said that the bill will do good things.

“I do think that it has enough good in it to move forward,” Rep. Brian Baca, R-Los Lunas, said.

Rep. Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, said that the House Appropriations and Finance Committee is mainly tasked with ensuring there is funding in the budget to meet the bill’s objectives. He said that the budget bill, HB 2, currently includes an appropriation for the funds in SB 9. Like Baca, he said “there’s a lot of good in this bill.”

“I hope this thing moves forward in a way that will allow us to restore our watershed and not drive any of our little small farmers and ranchers out of business,” he said.