NM can leverage federal conservation dollars - Albuquerque Journal

NM can leverage federal conservation dollars

I have been blessed to reside in a place with a long history of land stewardship that goes back for centuries and, hopefully, for many generations to come. I have witnessed how the conservation of open space, working farms, wildlife habitat and the preservation of our New Mexico heritage can translate into sustainable and robust local economic development here in the North Valley along the Rio Grande. Visitors from all over the world now come to Los Ranchos de Albuquerque to enjoy the open space, the walking trails, the wafting smell of roasting chiles, the wintering cranes and geese, and the lavender and abundant farm produce.

As our community and local businesses look toward economic recovery, our state should invest our resources in a way that creates jobs and diversifies our economy while protecting the qualities we love most about New Mexico. To deliver on these needs, our elected leaders must make conservation a priority.

Fortunately, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham understands the value that investing in conservation brings. I applaud her leadership in establishing a statewide goal of conserving 30% of our lands and watersheds by 2030 – a goal rooted in the scientific consensus on how we restore and protect critical habitats that are important to our way of life in New Mexico. To build upon this exemplary vision, our state has the opportunity to invest once-in-a-generation stimulus and state budget funding into state conservation programs. Such funds could be used to revitalize our state parks, protect watersheds important to farmers and ranchers, invest in shovel-ready and job-creating projects to restore wildlife habitat and trails, and expand our growing outdoor recreation economy.

On-the-ground conservation investments generate impressive returns for our community. Every $1 invested in parks through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) returns $4 in economic value – a program that continues to benefit all 33 counties in New Mexico. According to a study by Colorado State University, every $1 invested in conservation easements returns $4 to $12 in public benefits. Other Western states have begun allocating 2021 stimulus funds toward state parks and recreation. We should be leading these states by putting forth more bold investments in conservation.

With an eye toward the next legislative session, there are also some modest, but meaningful, policies that would help leverage resources for years to come. One such proposal provides minor, but critical, fixes to the state’s existing “Natural Heritage Conservation Act” or NHCA Program. This narrow reform legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, will allow state grants to go toward the creation of community parks, restoration projects and – of critical importance – make it easier for communities to leverage federal conservation matching funds from LWCF. If we can pass these modest reforms, we can fully capitalize on $5 million annually in federal LWCF dollars so cities, counties, tribes and rural communities can move forward with local infrastructure projects and expand access to the outdoors.

It’s time to do everything we can as a state to leverage federal conservation dollars, and reach our conservation and economic recovery goals. New Mexico communities, local businesses, and our children and grandchildren will all benefit from these important conservation efforts.

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