March 13, 2023

Bill creating a fund for conservation programs heads to governor’s desk

Hannah Grover

Fall colors are seen north of Chama

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Sunday intended to create funding sources for conservation programs on a 54-11 vote.

SB 9 creates a permanent fund that will generate funding through investment and interest. It also creates a fund—the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund—that will be distributed to various agencies in the state for conservation. The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be initially funded through an allocation from this year’s general fund. But eventually, that will change and the funding from the interest generated by the permanent fund will be used to fund the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. 

This could enable those entities to use the money as matching funds for federal dollars.

Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Herrera, described SB 9 as one of the most important bills this session.

Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said that she loves the bill, which helps protect the state from wildfire and drought and invests in outdoor recreation.

Many of the legislators who voted against the bill said that they were concerned about the ability of the New Mexico agencies to use that money to acquire land. Rep. Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, attempted to amend the bill on the House floor to prohibit agencies from using the money to acquire land.

Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, presented the bill on the House floor. He said that SB 9 comes as a result of generations of work by stakeholder organizations. These organizations include conservation groups, the Western Landowners Alliance and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. He said that the sponsors, Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, decided not to support any amendments that were not agreed upon by all of the stakeholder organizations behind the bill. 

Chatfield’s amendment ultimately was tabled on a 34-30 vote.

At the same time, Chatfield said he supports the creation of the fund for the conservation programs.

“I support it for the restoration of our watersheds,” he said. “Our watersheds are burning down.”

He said he is grateful that the groups—which often disagree on topics—were able to come together to come up with a proposal like SB 9.

The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and New Mexico Wool Growers were not involved in those discussions and have opposed SB 9 because the funds could be used for acquisition of property.

Various state agencies already have the ability to acquire private property and SB 9 does not expand on their authority.

Chatfield ultimately voted in favor of passing SB 9.

SB 9 now heads to the governor’s desk.