Exciting developments in water advocacy are brewing! HB 201 received unanimous approval (6-0) from the House Agriculture, Acequias, and Water Resource Committee, allocating $150 million to the state Water Project Fund. Additionally, SB 111 passed the Senate Conservation Committee (5-3), directing $840,000 towards environmental monitoring to uphold existing water regulations crucial for New Mexico’s human and non-human communities and to better understand where federal jurisdiction has changed following the Sackett decision. We’re grateful to Senators Correa Hemphill, Wirth, Stefanics, and Representative Sariñana for highlighting these important interim protections for our state’s waters.
Wildlife Corridors Funding:
Created during last year’s legislative session to implement the State Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, the Wildlife Corridor Fund (SB 72) supports efforts to vehicle collisions with wildlife through highway infrastructure projects that include signage, fencing, and overpass/underpass projects as well as promote habitat connectivity across the state. This year, Governor Lujan Grisham recommended allocating $30 million toward the Fund, and the Legislative Finance Committee recommended $50 million. A day before the House passed its budget (HB 2), the $50 million for the Fund was mysteriously stripped from the budget. New Mexico Wild and coalition partners are working to put that critical allocation back into the final budget. We thank President Pro Tempore Senator Mimi Stewart, the primary sponsor of the Wildlife Corridor Fund last year and the driving force behind this year’s allocation.
The Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund:
Passed last year, the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund is New Mexico’s first-ever dedicated source of recurring funding for conservation, land and water stewardship, forest and watershed health, outdoor recreation and infrastructure, agriculture and working lands, historic preservation, and wildlife species protection. It provides critical funding for existing programs and important matching funds to bring federal dollars to the state. A $300 million appropriation is included in the budget passed by the House (HB 2), and we expect both the Senate and Governor to approve the appropriation. This permanent fund produces dividends that will pay 12% annually to a suite of state agencies that manage conservation stewardship programs statewide. The agencies will start to receive these benefits in 2025.
The Match Fund Initiative:
Exciting progress as HB 177, the New Mexico Match Fund, cleared the House Rural Development, Land Grants, and Cultural Affairs Committee unanimously (6-0). This legislation, supported in Governor Lujan Grisham’s FY25 executive budget, would allocate $100 million to launch the New Mexico Match Fund, improving access to federal funding for vital infrastructure projects across the state. New Mexico Wild’s Guide to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act identified a lack of state matching funds, required by most grants, to be a barrier to ensuring these dollars are put to maximum benefit for critical water projects. A $50 million appropriation is included in the House budget (HB 2), and we are confident that this amount will receive support from the Senate and receive final approval from the Governor.
Land & Water Conservation Fund Changes:
Amendments to the state Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) (SB 169) will complement our other conservation funding priorities and will help the state better access federal LWCF dollars. The LWCF provides federal grants for projects throughout the country to safeguard natural areas, water resources, and cultural heritage, and to provide equitable recreation opportunities. SB 169 would update the state’s framework for providing matching funds and using these grants. It would prioritize funding requests from Pueblos, Tribes, and rural communities; invest $10 million to help communities meet federal match requirements; and provide needed support for the State Parks Division’s program administration.
Game Commission Reform:
The New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMDGF) badly needs reform to transcend from an agency focused solely on game and fish species to a modern agency that holistically stewards all of New Mexico’s precious wildlife. In last year’s legislative session, reform legislation (HB184) passed both the house and senate with bipartisan support but was vetoed by Governor Lujan Grisham. Representative Matthew McQueen is again sponsoring a bill to modernize NMDGF (HB 147/178). Although it will be difficult to complete in this short 30-day legislative session, we are confident that this critical initiative will pass, either this year or in next year’s 60-day session.
Oil & Gas Reform:
Amendments to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Act (HB 133) have passed the House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee (6-5) and the House Judiciary Committee (7-4). Unfortunately, due to strong industry opposition, the committees passed substitute bills that removed setback provisions to protect public health and natural resources, including surface waters and wildlife habitat. Even without setbacks, HB 133 would be a win for New Mexico by enacting reforms to protect the environment and taxpayers. We are working to ensure the bill is passed and not further weakened. Meanwhile, New Mexico Wild and partners are advocating for the passage of a Senate Memorial (SM 8) to ensure further work on setback legislation in next year’s 60-day session.