For candidates with strong conservation values, the 2022 midterm election was one for the ages. In New Mexico, we saw impressive victories by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who championed the Energy Transition Act and conserving 30% of our lands and waters by 2030; State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, who supports plugging abandoned oil and gas wells; and the election of Gabe Vasquez – a well-known conservationist – in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.
The outcome demonstrates that protecting public lands, waters and wildlife is a winner, with crossover appeal to Democrats, Republicans and independents. A 2022 poll by Colorado College showed that 79% of New Mexicans support protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030; 82% support creating new national monuments; 85% say that public lands issues help determine their support for an elected official; and a whopping 92% support requiring oil and gas companies to pay for cleanup costs. This isn’t surprising in the Land of Enchantment, where we know that our natural and cultural heritage are inextricably connected.
A study by the Center for Western Priorities noted that between 2011 and 2021, New Mexico ranked third among all Western states in conserving the most public land. While that is good news, the report also noted that we are far behind in total protected lands, and bills to protect over 16 million acres of public land in the West are currently languishing in Congress.
Fortunately, New Mexico has elected leaders with strong conservation values representing us in Washington, D.C. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, and Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury listen to communities who want to protect special places, and they have our gratitude.
They put forth crucial legislation this year, including the M.H. Dutch Salmon Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, which would permanently protect 450 miles of New Mexico’s last free-flowing river, and the Pecos Watershed Protection Act, which would protect this sensitive area from new hardrock mining. The Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Act will safeguard 13,000 acres with rich cultural and wildlife values, and the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act will prevent future drilling on public lands near this place that is sacred to pueblos and tribes. More work remains before these bills become law. In the remaining weeks of this Congress , it is imperative that they finish the job.
We are calling on the leadership in Congress to pass these bills . Now is the time to deliver on their promise to conserve our public lands, waters and wildlife. It’s time to move these bills forward in a comprehensive public lands package.
And if a cynical few attempt to thwart the will of New Mexicans, we call on President Biden to use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act, as he did for the recent establishments of new national monuments at Camp Hale in Colorado and Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada. We strongly encourage him to protect such places as the Caja del Rio here in New Mexico, an important cultural landscape for pueblos and Hispano communities. The voters have spoken and their message is clear: the time for conservation is now. This holiday season, that would truly be the gift that keeps on giving.