By Jeff Witte & Sarah Cottrell Propst
Ruidoso News | October 26, 2021
New Mexicans have strong ties to the land. From ancestral farming to the care and maintenance of acequias, to ranching on land through many generations, to hunting and fishing, New Mexicans treasure our beautiful and unique landscapes. That’s why conservation that honors all New Mexicans’ ties to the land is so crucial.
The summer of 2021 put the impacts of climate change on full display. From heat domes to wildfires to flooding, the effects of climate change are unfolding before our eyes. Conservation of natural and working lands is integral to our ability to adapt to the changing climate and is the basis for the national initiative to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands by 2030 New Mexico is unique, and our implementation of 30 by 30 will be as well.
New Mexico needs a seat at the table as important decisions are made about what will and won’t count toward the 30 by 30 goal. The governor’s executive order authorizes New Mexico representation in the national dialogue and creates a pathway for all New Mexico stakeholders to be engaged. By taking control of our own 30 by 30 goals and setting up a process to participate in the national initiative, we’ll be able to ensure the needs of New Mexicans are met as we promote wildlife habitat, improve watershed resilience and protect the rights of private landowners.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order setting 30 by 30 into motion is really just the starting point. By design, the 30 by 30 advisory committee will use existing projects and voluntary programs, and will seek to leverage funding to achieve strong on-the-ground results. Projects and programs might include capturing the conservation benefits of working forest and agricultural lands, providing state funding to match federal funds for conservation activities, and using voluntary tools like conservation easements or land acquisition from willing sellers.
The 30 by 30 advisory committee will engage with all New Mexicans on how to best count protected lands toward the 30% goal. This is one reason it’s so crucial to have a seat at the table. The Department of the Interior used the National Protected Areas Database to generate initial numbers about the percent of lands already conserved. This national database correctly shows that New Mexico already has 30% of our lands managed in the federal system but proposes only 6% be counted toward the national 30 by 30 goal. We think that 6% misses important conservation activities in NM. The 30 by 30 Committee will immediately start establishing how lands get counted and nail down complete data.
A key reason New Mexico supports the 30 by 30 framework is to get more funding to private-public partnerships to amplify the good work already being accomplished on the ground. Donations of over 9,000 acres of voluntarily conserved private land have been certified as eligible for tax credits through the state’s Land Conservation Incentives Act tax credit program this year alone. These lands are in Colfax, Mora, Socorro and Santa Fe Counties and are conserving forest and grassland habitats, scenic vistas, and cultural and historic values while retaining their productive agricultural and forest management uses. Additional certificates of eligibility for tax credits have been submitted for donations of conservation easements in Socorro, Torrance, Lincoln, Quay, Harding, San Miguel and Catron Counties. The 30 by 30 initiative will allow us to ramp up these already successful efforts.
The committee will work with Soil and Water Conservation Districts and private landowners, including farmers and ranchers, to ensure we count as many conservation practices as we can. The climate stabilization zones are opportunities to add farms and ranches to the overall goals. Without new regulations, New Mexico can make sure these contributions are tallied to reach the goals of 30 by 30 in our state, while protecting and enhancing our customs and culture that make New Mexico the special place we all enjoy.
Together, we’ll leverage our existing partnerships and programs to benefit our communities, lands, and watersheds.
Jeff Witte, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Department of Agriculture. Sarah Cottrell Propst, Cabinet Secretary, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
This article originally appeared in Ruidoso News.