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July 2024

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The Land Of Enchantment Legacy Fund, Round Two

Happy new year, and welcome to another conservation funding season! On January 16, our elected representatives will begin discussing bills dealing with education, housing, energy, and other important issues. It’s a short session this year, which means legislators will focus on budgetary matters — in other words, how our government will spend our money. As in recent years, New Mexico is blessed with a budget surplus from significant oil and gas revenue.

In last year’s session, the legislature united around the idea of investing in land and water conservation, creating the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, with an initial investment of $100 million for existing stewardship programs. These programs range across a number of state agencies, including the New Mexico environment department, the agriculture department, game and fish, energy, minerals, and natural resources, as well as the economic development department’s outdoor recreation division. In addition to funding projects directly, the Legacy Fund would provide non-federal matching dollars required by certain federal programs that can boost conservation investment significantly.

In a way, Questa helped pave the way for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. The village’s commitment to restoring the Red River not only showed the power of locally driven initiatives, but the importance of non-federal funding sources to make projects more expansive and durable. The department of game and fish and the environment department were the main agencies behind Questa’s restoration projects; thanks to having leveraged federal conservation dollars. These agencies were able to build projects several times as large as what local stakeholders had originally planned.

But Questa isn’t the only town seeking to improve its local fishing or diversify its recreation and agriculture economy. In fact, there are many towns and conservation-minded entities that would be happy to duplicate Questa’s success. One hundred million dollars should be enough funding to meet such a demand. Amazingly, it’s not.

Half of the 2023 Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund consists of expendable money going straight to conservation projects. We can imagine a day when this funding will be entirely spent. The remaining portion of the Legacy Fund is a trust fund, wherein a $50 million corpus accrues interest that will be diverted every year to worthwhile projects. Once the expendable portion of the fund is gone, the trust fund portion will be too paltry to be able to keep up with demand.

That is, unless the corpus amount is increased in the 2024 legislature. A group of stakeholder advocates and legislative leaders are mounting a movement to increase the interest-yielding corpus of the Legacy Fund — $350 million is a reasonable target — and it’s in all of our interest to support their efforts.
A larger fund would continue to enable tribal communities, acequias, soil and water districts, and community groups to apply for funds to implement projects enhancing water and land resources. The River Stewardship Program, which has funded restoration of the Red and Cimarron Rivers, streams in the Jemez and Gila regions, will hopefully be applied to the Rio Chama basin and more arid regions where wildlife would benefit enormously from revived riparian habitats.

Particularly in the wake of the tragic Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire, it’s important to have adequate funding to address the present and future challenges presented by drought, fire, and flood. Also, it’s important to help children get outdoors, as the Outdoor Equity program has been able to accomplish across New Mexico, creating a legacy of natural resource stewardship for the next generation.