Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Skyrocketing oil and natural gas production in southeastern New Mexico continues to produce record-setting state revenue. A broad coalition of agricultural and environmental groups believe some of that money should help restore the state’s land and water.
Senate Bill 102, the New Mexico Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act, would direct a portion of the state’s oil and gas revenue surplus to a permanent fund for habitat restoration and sustainable agriculture projects in the state.
Bill sponsor Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, joined representatives from the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts and several other groups at the Roundhouse on Tuesday to show support for the bill.
The bill proposes that $150 million be appropriated from the general fund into an Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund in fiscal year 2021. Interest from public and private investments in the fund would pay for restoration projects.
“Everything we care about in New Mexico really begins with the well-being of our land and water, and this is an opportunity to reinvest in those resources,” said Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance. “This could give New Mexico a different future.”
The legislation is modeled on the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust program, which has allocated $97 million since 2005 for river restoration and rangeland improvements.
Money in the New Mexico fund could be used to reduce streambed erosion, improve water quality, and restore fire-impacted watersheds. Potential projects also include preserving open space, purchasing conservation easements, enhancing wildlife habitat in “areas impacted by residential, energy, mineral or industrial development,” managing invasive plant species, and creating healthy soil and other sustainable agriculture projects on private land.
The fund could provide state money as a match to qualify for federal conservation grants.
“People have been caring for this land for generations, and they want to see it protected forever,” said Cecilia Rosacker, executive director of the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust. “Our stumbling block has always been funding.”
The bill would secure long-term funding for habitat preservation projects, instead of “fighting for scraps every year,” according to Michael Dax, New Mexico representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
Some other organizations in support of SB 102 include Trout Unlimited, Audubon New Mexico, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the Quivira Coalition and Holistic Management International.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.