New Mexico’s administrative and legislative leaders have worked hard in recent months to address our long-standing need to invest in forest and watershed health, acequia infrastructure, agency capacity and other natural resource priorities. Along with numerous stakeholders who, for the past several years, have collaborated to increase conservation funding levels, we applaud our leaders for their dedication.

Numerous legislative and budget proposals are on the table, ranging from a Land of Enchantment general obligation bond for conservation programs to substantial appropriations addressing water security and working lands. We are encouraged that New Mexico’s natural resources are receiving the attention they deserve.

It is absolutely critical to New Mexico’s future that significant conservation funding cross the finish line this legislative session. Intensive use has impacted the land’s capacity to support the watersheds upon which our economies depend. The state lacks capacity at almost every level, from resource management agencies to partners such as acequias, soil and water conservation districts, and restoration contractors. Along with increased funding for restoration projects, agency capacity must be expanded quickly, and our commitment to such objectives must be steadfast and long term.

The beauty of New Mexico’s landscapes belies the extensive degree to which natural resiliency is actively degrading at our economy’s expense. According to the 2021 New Mexico Tax Study-Agriculture, Natural and Working Lands, approximately 3 million acres of New Mexico have been impacted by wildfire since 2010, and from 2011-19, the economic cost of drought exceeded 1.5 billion dollars. Since 1997, approximately 5 million acres of open land have been converted from agriculture to mostly residential status.

The 50-Year Water Plan’s Leap Ahead analysis shows temperatures trending upwards and snowfall trending down; for these and other reasons, streams that once flowed reliably now often run dry.

As our population continues to grow, how will we protect rural communities from drought, fire, erosion, or real-estate speculation? How will these threats affect agriculture, fishing and hunting? How will we sequester carbon, enhance biodiversity, and recharge our rivers and aquifers while maintaining a strong agricultural economy and equitable food system?

New Mexico’s conservation investments must achieve the broadest and most equitable outcomes for our communities and the environment. While our agricultural sector ages, skyrocketing land values stifle the recruitment of young people into agriculture.

As a result, villages face an almost constant exodus of their children and grandchildren, many of whom might prefer farming or otherwise stewarding the resources that benefit us all in some way or another. There are other pressures too, urban water interests, sentiments against ranching and farming, as well as growing concerns about industrial-strength recreation. What does all this portend for our rural communities, let alone the health of the land?

New Mexico is a web of agriculture, tourism and industry, from which the removal of one strand can cause the whole thing to unravel in unpredictable and catastrophic ways. It is imperative, therefore, that we strengthen the bond between our urban and rural regions, between the cities generating revenue and the rural lands and communities providing the natural resources and quality of life that sustain us. We must do this by investing in conservation in ways that support the full diversity of people, landscapes, communities and cultures that make New Mexico worth living in.

We give thanks to our state leaders for taking the first steps to solve our conservation challenges. We encourage them to remain committed to the long-term funding for maintaining healthy lands, waters, wildlife and communities.

This piece supporting conservation investments is supported by Toner Mitchell and Dan Roper of Trout Unlimited; Debbie Hughes with the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts; Lesli Allison, Western Landowners Alliance; and Judy Calman, Audubon Southwest.

Popular in the Community