Historic land and water conservation proposal to be introduced at Roundhouse

During her State of the State address, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham suggested that a enormous land and water protection Initiative that, if approved by the Legislature, would be the first in New Mexico history.

Brittany Fallon is a senior policy manager at Western Lands Advocates of western resources. She spoke to KUNM about the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and what it would do for the environment.

BRITTANY FALLON: New Mexico has no dedicated or ongoing funding stream for land and water conservation programs. So right now, these programs are either underfunded or don’t have enough money to reach every community in New Mexico. Sometimes the legislature funds them. Sometimes they don’t. And the result is that it creates an inconsistent funding environment that makes our communities significantly more vulnerable to climate change. And we’ve seen the effects of that this summer, with rapid-fire wildfires across the state.

KUNM: We haven’t seen any pre-billed legislation addressing what the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would essentially do. Can you give us a glimpse of what a possible invoice might look like?

STAND OUT: The governor has set out her political vision. And now it’s up to lawmakers to tweak it as they see fit before rolling out what they’re working on. As far as I know the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will cover four main areas… I think of them as land, water, economy and culture. Starting next year, it will put funds into ten existing state programs.

The included programs protect us from climate change, they invest in climate resilience to forest fires, floods and droughts. They secure the urban and rural water supply. For example, through forest restoration programs and the River Stewardship Program. You will support rural and farming communities, grow our outdoor recreation economy, and support New Mexico’s youth by bringing children outside into our public spaces.

The governor’s proposal was $75 million. This money would be spread over three to five years. However, the legislator is quite interested in dealing with a permanent fund concept. This number could be much higher depending on how the legislative negotiations go. And of course I would support that. The more money we invest, the better off New Mexico will be in the long run. And the more resilient our communities become over time.

KUNM: Where will this funding come from?

STAND OUT: It would be a one-time grant from the government’s budget surplus. So it’s not a recurring appropriation. And I think something else important to know is that every dollar that the state invests goes right back to the communities to use, and every dollar can be doubled or even tripled with matching federal grants, which is a big draw for this fund.

KUMM: OK. Could you point to another location? Maybe another state or even a country doing something similar to this proposal and what were the results?

STAND OUT: There are 13 other states to the west that have established special conservation funds, putting New Mexico at a disadvantage. And I think the biggest win these states have is that because of our inconsistent funding environment, they bring in far more state grants than New Mexico is capable of. Really, the purpose of this fund, while investing in climate resilience, is just to ensure that New Mexico doesn’t miss out on literally billions of dollars of federal funding that could go to our communities and currently isn’t.