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Historic land and water conservation proposal to be introduced in Roundhouse

Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico.
Jocelyn Catterson
Pecos Wilderness, New Mexico.

During her State of the State address, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed a huge land and water conservationinitiative that, if approved by lawmakers, would be the first in New Mexico’s history.

Brittany Fallon is the Western Lands Senior Policy Manager with the Western Resource Advocates. She spoke with KUNM about the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund and what it would accomplish for the environment.

BRITTANY FALLON: New Mexico does not have a dedicated or permanent funding stream for land and water conservation programs. So, right now, these programs are either underfunded or they don't have enough funding 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, which leaves our communities significantly more vulnerable to climate change. And we saw the ramifications of that this summer, with rapid wildfires across the state.

KUNM: We haven't seen any pre-filed legislation as of right now, that tackles what the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would essentially do. Could you give us some insights on what a potential bill could look like?

FALLON: The governor has put forward her policy vision. And now it's up to the legislators to tweak it as they see fit before they introduce it, which is what they're working on right now. My understanding, the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is going to cover four main areas... I think of them as land, water, the economy and culture. It will put funding into ten existing state programs starting next year.

The programs that are included protect us from climate change, they invest in climate resiliency to wildfire, flood and drought. They safeguard urban and rural water supplies. So for example, through forest restoration programs and the river stewardship program. They'll support rural and agricultural communities, and it will grow our outdoor recreation economy and support New Mexico youth by getting kids outside into our public spaces.

The governor's proposal was $75 million. That money would be spanned out over three to five years. But, the legislature is really interested in looking at more of a permanent fund concept. This number could go much higher, depending on how legislative negotiations play out. And, obviously, I would support that. The more money we invest, the better New Mexico will be for the long run. And the more resilient our communities will be over time.

KUNM: Where will this funding come from?

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

KUNM: Okay. Could you point to somewhere else? Maybe another state or even country that is doing something similar to this proposal and what the results were from it?

FALLON: There are 13 other states that have dedicated conservation funds in the West, which puts New Mexico at a disadvantage. And, for me, I think the biggest win that those states have is they are bringing in substantially more federal grant dollars than New Mexico is able to because of our inconsistent funding environment. The purpose of this fund, really, while investing in climate resiliency is also to just make sure that New Mexico is not missing out on literally billions of dollars in federal funding that could be going to our communities and right now is not.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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