Water conservation

groups: New Mexico must fund more conservation projects | New Mexico News

By THERESA DAVIS, Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) – The land of enchantment is home to vast forests and deserts, meandering rivers and streams, and diverse wildlife.

Now, a coalition of outdoor recreation and conservation groups is pointing to an influx of federal stimulus funds and a healthy state budget as funding sources for projects to protect and promote New Mexico’s natural resources.

The groups are calling on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to allocate $ 65 million of the remaining $ 1.7 billion of the American Rescue Plan Act to “off the shelf” conservation programs and projects.

The 15 groups outlined the spending priorities in a September 30 letter to the governor and cabinet secretaries of the departments of economic development, finance and administration, environment and energy, minerals and natural resources.

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Brittany Fallon, policy director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said pandemic relief money puts the state in an “unprecedented” funding position.

Data from the Department of Economic Development estimates that the outdoor recreation industry directly supports $ 1.2 billion in revenue and 33,500 jobs, and contributes $ 2.3 billion to the state’s GDP.

“We advertise tourism to New Mexico around the world, so people come here and visit our places, and we don’t maintain the trails,” Fallon told the Albuquerque Journal. “We’re not putting in the trash that we need, we’re not doing the work we should be doing to conserve the places we’re trying to make a hub of our economy.”

The Biden administration announced the federal America the Beautiful and 30 × 30 initiative earlier this year.

The effort is focused on protecting water and wildlife quality and reducing carbon emissions on public and private lands.

Lujan Grisham’s August 25 decree reflects this federal initiative and set a goal of conserving 30% of all state land and water by 2030.

The 30 × 30 initiative created a task force made up of heads of state agencies who “will support and implement programs designed to conserve, protect and enhance lands and natural environments”.

“I think New Mexico is going to lead the country in 30 of 30 conservation efforts that will really make a difference for generations to come,” the governor said upon signing the executive order.

The coalition is calling for the Outdoor Recreation Division to receive $ 10 million in grants for trail development.

The Legislature approved $ 500,000 for the Trails + program for fiscal year 2021. The agency asked lawmakers for $ 3.2 million.

Outdoor Recreation Division Director Axie Navas said the grants help communities invest in trail signage and river access, and prevent overuse and degradation of soil quality. and water.

“It’s about protecting these places, but not at the expense of the people who live there, and allowing access in a safe and sustainable manner,” Navas said.

In October 2020, the division awarded trail project funding to six organizations. Most of the project sites have started construction.

Grants are available for tribes, municipalities, counties, acequia associations, land grants and non-profit organizations.

“So many of us, as New Mexicans, derive so much joy from these (outdoor) places and our livelihood from these places,” Navas said. “These are our classrooms and our offices. A people-centered approach must be part of the equation.

Conservation groups are calling for a total of $ 25 million in ARPA funding to go to forestry and hydrology projects.

Dan Roper, coordinator of Trout Unlimited’s angler conservation program, said the projects could create a “restoration workforce” to improve watersheds and fish habitat.

“It can be very laborious when you are investing in all kinds of habitat restoration,” Roper said. “You can create a lot of jobs in communities. “

Adding money to state agency programs that have been stagnant for years could help New Mexico adapt to a changing climate that threatens water quality and quantity.

“A lot of our rivers have a form of what we would call degradation or degraded habitat,” Roper said. “It can be eroded or incised stream banks or rivers that are no longer connected to their floodplains. There is a whole host of environmental benefits that we stand to lose.

The coalition calls for the money to fund an REMRD forest and watershed health program and an NMED river stewardship program.

The REMDD program aims to manage forests in such a way as to prevent large forest fires and to restore or protect rivers, streams and aequia systems from fire damage.

The NMED program focuses on surface water quality and river habitat.

New Mexico’s 35 state parks welcome approximately 4.75 million visitors per year.

The coalition is calling for the state parks division to receive $ 15 million in ARPA funds to repair old infrastructure and build new facilities.

State Parks Director Toby Velasquez said an increase in funding would target capacity issues in high-use areas like Pecos Canyon and Fenton Lake.

“The romantic part of recreation is campfires and s’mores,” Velasquez said. “The by-product of this is that there is no way for people to get rid of their RV waste.”

The park manager said the agency needs to adapt the facilities to climate-induced threats of larger forest fires and falling water levels.

“It’s going to take us big steps to start really catching up on what needs to be done, especially on properties where the investment hasn’t been made for several years,” Velasquez said.

Acquiring land is a key part of the 30 × 30 initiative.

The coalition is calling for $ 10 million to go to the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game and state parks for land acquisition projects.

Game and Fish recently purchased a 7,500 acre property near Fort Sumner. The Pipkin Ranch plot will now connect two other state properties the agency manages as lower prairie chicken habitat.

“Buying and maintaining a property, like this ranch, is a great example of wildlife habitat conservation,” said Sharon Salazar Hickey, who chairs the National Hunting Commission. “To the average eye, Pipkin Ranch may look like a rolling prairie with little value, but to any prairie chicken it’s a chance for growth and an important bastion of conservation.”

Money from NGL Energy Partners and sales of fishing and hunting licenses enabled Game and Fish to purchase the ranch.

The letter also calls for Game and Fish to receive $ 5 million for habitat restoration and treatment of species at risk.

Lujan Grisham said his administration would use $ 656 million in ARPA funding for the state’s unemployment fund.

Two lawmakers have asked the state’s Supreme Court to challenge the governor’s spending power for the remaining funding.

Governors and lawmakers in Wyoming, Michigan, Maine and New Hampshire have all allocated or proposed to spend the last of the pandemic stimulus money on state parks, outdoor recreation and conservation.

Greg Peters, an advocate for public lands and wildlife with Conservation Voters New Mexico, said the state should follow the national trend to build a “conservation legacy.”

“In the past 10 years, New Mexico has not had a proactive program on public lands,” said Peters. “But these are now opportunities to make significant strides in protecting our lands, waters, wildlife and cultural heritage.”

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