New Mexico will aim to conserve 30% of all lands within the state by 2030, to expand outdoor access and preserve natural resources, under an executive order signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday.
The initiative echoes the Biden administration’s “30 by 30” conservation plan.“I believe that New Mexico is going to lead the country in 30 by 30 conservation efforts that really make a difference for generations to come,” Lujan Grisham said prior to signing the order outside the Roundhouse.
The order creates a committee of state agency leaders who will meet quarterly.
The group will report to the governor on initiatives like water quality, wildlife migration corridors, and carbon capture on agricultural lands.
“In New Mexico, the loss of natural habitat and biodiversity catalyzed by increasing temperature and drought will outpace nature’s regenerative abilities,” the document reads. “Current levels of protection and conservation will not change this trend.”
Debbie Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts, said the state needs to leverage federal funding for farm and ranch projects.
The committee has been directed to use existing funding and recommend legislative policy.
“It needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time funding,” said Hughes, who ranches near Carlsbad. “These projects are huge when we’re doing things like watershed restoration.”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report emphasizes the urgency of keeping average global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A “science-driven” state goal pairs with efforts to address a changing climate, said Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst.
“We’re going to work on protecting water quality against degradation (and) ensuring local economies and outdoor recreation opportunities, particularly for the underserved communities and youth,” Cottrell Propst said.
State and federal land conservation is not untested in New Mexico.
Land acquisitions like the recent 10,000-acre expansion of Sabinoso Wilderness Area near Las Vegas could count toward the state’s total 30% conservation goal.
Some groups at Wednesday’s signing noted that conservation should be more than permanent legal protection of lands and waters.
Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, said landowners need to be involved with the state efforts in order to help quell fears of the 30×30 program as a “government land-grab.”
“We really hope that this initiative will recognize the role that private and working lands play in conserving open space, biodiversity, and providing food and water security,” Allison said.
Large-scale projects could preserve “the New Mexico identity and way of life” for future generations, said Demis Foster, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico.
“The state’s support of locally-led conservation initiatives will bring new parks and open space into our communities and make it easier for all New Mexicans to get outside,” Foster said.
New Mexico Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, criticized the executive order, saying that “family-owned, private land is better managed, utilized and preserved” than state or federal land.
“I am beginning to think that the Governor has never met a rancher or farmer in her decades as a bureaucrat, candidate, and elected official,” Diamond said in a statement. “This 30×30 initiative set forth by the Governor is a thinly veiled land grab and the people of New Mexico will not stand for it.”
New Mexico’s 30 by 30 committee includes Cabinet secretaries or representatives of EMNRD, the Environment, Agriculture and Indian Affairs departments, Game and Fish, Office of the State Engineer and the Outdoor Recreation Division.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.