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Editorial: Using oil surplus to help restore habitat worth the investment

A bill that would dedicate a portion of the state’s record oil and gas revenues to a permanent fund for habitat restoration and sustainable agriculture projects deserves serious consideration from lawmakers, and it’s good to see support for it from a broad coalition of agricultural and environmental groups.

Senate Bill 102, the New Mexico Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund Act sponsored by Republican Sen. Steven Neville of Aztec, would appropriate $150 million from the general fund into an Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund in fiscal 2021. Interest from public and private investments in the fund would pay for land and water restoration projects in the state.

Projects could include reducing streambed erosion, improving water quality and restoring fire-impacted watersheds. Potential projects also include preserving open space, purchasing conservation easements, managing invasive plant species, creating healthy soil and other sustainable agriculture projects on private land, and enhancing wildlife habitat in areas impacted by residential, energy, mineral or industrial development.

The fund could also leverage state money as a match for federal conservation grants.

Michael Dax, a New Mexico representative for Defenders of Wildlife, told the Journal’s Theresa Davis for a Jan. 22 story that the bill would secure long-term funding for habitat preservation projects instead of “fighting for scraps every year.”

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, said the trust fund “could give New Mexico a different future.”

Other organizations in support include Trout Unlimited, Audubon New Mexico, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, the Quivira Coalition, the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust, New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts and Holistic Management International.

It makes sense for New Mexico to use the windfall from oil and gas proceeds for long-term improvements, not just quick, one-time fixes that require recurring funding after the oil boom busts. The idea of establishing essentially an endowment for land and water restoration projects is a sound proposal that merits legislative attention in the 30-day session underway in Santa Fe.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.