With tens of thousands of acres in New Mexico on fire, it’s obvious that weeks and months of work lie ahead to restore lives, land and the economy.
Much of that work will be done in rural areas — including in northeastern New Mexico — where small towns have been losing population and economies have struggled for decades.
The burden of cleaning up, rebuilding homes, replacing livestock and otherwise mending a world destroyed by fire will be heavy. That makes the timing of the first New Mexico Rural Summit, taking place Thursday and Friday at the Roundhouse, fortuitous.
As firefighters battle the blazes around our state, lawmakers, businesspeople, policymakers and others are discussing how to revitalize the economies of rural areas of New Mexico.
Sustaining rural economies that will nurture families, individuals and entrepreneurs will be critical, even as New Mexico becomes more urban.
Northern New Mexico is hardly the only part of the state being affected by fire this year — and it likely won’t be the last, given the state of drought. Traditional mainstays of rural economies, such as farming and ranching, face increasingly uphill battles as the climate changes and profit margins shrink.
The question for New Mexicans who want to maintain these lifestyles — whether farming in the Mora Valley or ranching in Chaves County — is how to make such choices sustainable.
The summit, the brainchild of Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde, is designed to find ways to answer those questions, as well as broadening opportunity for other economic opportunities. It’s an issue that should unite all of us, urban or rural, Republican, Democrat or independent. Montoya deserves credit for organizing such a gathering. You can’t find answers to hard questions without exchanging ideas and coming up with solutions.
Answers could be as varied as helping traditional farmers find less water-intensive ways of irrigating or following through on promises to increase broadband capacity in rural areas so individuals can work remotely.
On Thursday, a rundown of the current fire situation was added to the summit’s agenda, an important focus on what will be an ongoing crisis in numerous areas of rural New Mexico. That was just one of several discussions; another includes rebuilding the broken behavioral health system. A lack of providers and services have made it difficult to provide treatment for mental health or substance abuse, exacerbating problems in outlying parts of the state.
The focus Friday will be on solutions — ways state, local and tribal governments can work with the private sector to rebuild rural New Mexico. Participants will learn how to obtain funding for projects and discuss long-range planning to boost economic opportunity. The summit can be watched at nmruralsummit.com starting at 10 a.m.
The idea is to emerge with a roadmap to create broader economic success for small-town New Mexico, whether it’s in the blue north or red south. That’s an ambitious agenda but one well worth pursuing.