As New Mexicans, we understand the importance of our natural resources and cultural heritage, from our forests and grasslands, to our rivers and watersheds, to the wildlife and human communities they sustain, and the scenic open spaces that have inspired us for generations. As the state continues to enjoy record surpluses from oil and gas development, now is the time to join together to invest in the future of these natural systems and the resources they support for future generations.

New Mexico faces an uncertain future. As land managers, conservationists, agricultural producers, tribes, municipalities and citizens at large, we all feel the constant threat of a diminishing water supply resulting from prolonged droughts and changing climate. Our state’s wildlife are navigating through increasingly altered and fragmented habitats. Our agricultural lands face soil erosion and development pressures, while our forests are increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease.

The future of New Mexico over the next 100 years will depend on actions taken today to ensure our natural resources continue to provide our most essential needs. We are fortunate to have our current system of national forests, parks and wildlife refuges, but these public lands alone are not enough to sustain our water supplies, wildlife populations, scenic open spaces, food security and the economic viability of our rural communities. With the right vision and new partnerships between nonprofits, agencies, tribes, land grants, acequias, landowners and resource managers, we can work together on both public and private lands to protect and enhance habitat, sustain water supplies, conserve and restore fragile land and soils, and strengthen rural economies.

Over the past year, the New Mexico Association for Conservation Districts, Western Landowners Alliance, the New Mexico land trusts, Defenders of Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Audubon New Mexico and many other like-minded conservation and agricultural organizations have come together to promote the creation of permanent, dedicated state funding source for land conservation and restoration in New Mexico. The Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund proposes to place surplus revenue from oil and gas revenue into a permanent endowment fund managed by the State Investment Council and utilize the interest income to fund land and water conservation and restoration projects across the state. A significant investment in the trust fund would mark the single biggest investment in our land and water resources in our history and help grow a restoration economy that creates new jobs in every corner of the state. Working together, we can improve water quantity, restoring degraded habitat, preserve scenic open space, improve soil health and ecological resiliency, increase agricultural efficiency and productivity, and create opportunities for outdoor recreation and environmental education.

Creation of the Agricultural and Natural Resources Trust Fund would position New Mexico as a leader among western states and help secure our land and water future. Having a permanent, dedicated source of state funding would leverage the state leverage federal funding for land and water conservation through such programs as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Farm Bill, and the Forest Legacy Program; and even land conservation funding to prevent incompatible development around our key military installations through the U.S. Department of Defense. Such funding would also support important existing and ongoing state programs such as the State Wildlife Action Plan, the Wildlife Corridors Act, and the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act, among others.

Two concurrent bills (Senate Bill 102 and House Bill 223) have been introduced this legislative session by Sen. Steven Neville and Rep. Nathan Small, respectively. We encourage all New Mexicans to contact their legislators in support of this important initiative.

Scott Wilber is executive director of the New Mexico Land Conservancy. Dan Roper is the New Mexico public lands coordinator for the New Mexico Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Connor Jandreau, conservation project manager of the New Mexico Land Conservancy, Michael Dax, New Mexico representative of Defenders of Wildlife, and Jonathan Hayes, executive director of the Audubon New Mexico, contributed to this piece.

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