In this year’s 60-day legislative session our elected representatives will discuss bills dealing with education, housing, energy, climate, equity, and other important issues. As always, 2023’s session will feature plenty of debate on how New Mexico will spend money. Due to a budget surplus from significant oil and gas revenue, we are fortunate there is money to be spent.
New Mexico also has significant needs in the area of conservation, where investment in natural resources promises substantial benefits in the resiliency of rivers and streams and forests. Rural communities depend on these resources for agriculture, fish and game harvest, and tourism. Many of our natural resources are showing signs of wear and tear, either through deferred maintenance or due to drought conditions that have persisted for many years.
To address the conservation need, legislators will debate the creation of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, which was envisioned to provide recurring state funding for existing stewardship programs. These programs range across several state agencies, including the New Mexico Environment Department; Agriculture Department; Game and Fish; Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department; and the Economic Development Department’s Outdoor Recreation Division. In addition to funding projects directly, the Legacy Fund would leverage significant federal monies, most of which require non-federal matching funds to qualify for funding.
Federal leveraging, of course, increases the scale and impact of natural resource projects, which has been particularly relevant to Questa’s efforts to diversify its economy. The restoration of the Red River behind Eagle Rock Lake and upstream of the hatchery entailed an initial contribution by the Questa Economic Development Fund, which New Mexico Game and Fish quadrupled through federal leveraging to afford a much larger project. Importantly, through a lack of non-federal leveraging over the years, New Mexico has left lots of federal dollars on the table.
Legislators will be discussing two funding models for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. They can create a large expendable fund to be distributed across the agencies, or they can employ a trust fund model in which a large corpus will yield interest to spend on projects. Legislators must also debate the size of the Legacy Fund. The larger it is, the more important work can be done through higher direct spending or higher interest yields. In an ideal world, the size of the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will be in the hundreds of millions.
The fund as envisioned would enable tribal communities, acequias, soil and water districts, NGOs, and community groups to apply for funds to implement projects enhancing water and land resources. The River Stewardship Program, which funded the subsequent stream restoration below Eagle Rock as well as habitat improvements up in Red River, would be just one of the programs that would receive Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund monies. The Outdoor Recreation Division, another proposed Legacy Fund recipient, has supported Localogy and Vida del Norte Coalition summer youth camp in Questa through its Outdoor Equity program. Programs such as these would not only be sustained through the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, they could possibly be expanded.
As a past and, hopefully, future beneficiary of the state’s investment in natural resources, Questa has much to gain if funding legislation is passed. Contact your legislators and express your support for significant and recurring conservation funding.