New Mexico Creates Conservation Fund to Protect Rivers, Wildlife, and More

The historic trust will bring in more funds and promote climate resilience.
Five cranes wade in shallow water reflecting a pink sky, with a flock of white geese, fields, and mountains in the distance.
Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Photo: Marti Phillips/Audubon Photography Awards

After four years of difficult negotiations, New Mexico created the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund during the 2023 legislative session. Until this year, New Mexico was one of the only western states without a dedicated revenue stream for conservation and restoration projects. This meant that our state agencies were completely reliant on whatever they could get through the annual budget process to complete special projects. Because many conservation programs in the state do not have a specific line item in our state’s budget, they sometimes had no money at all unless the agency secured a special appropriation on a year-to-year basis. Most substantially, it also meant that New Mexico was not claiming significant federal money, which frequently requires states to put up some percentage as a match to get the federal funds.

Audubon began working with a coalition four years ago to address this problem. As the coalition grew, we had many challenging conversations about how a fund should work, and which programs should receive funding. This year, with a partnership that included groups representing conservation, agriculture, state agencies, outdoor recreation, and industry, combined with an unprecedented budget surplus—the stars aligned.

Last week, Gov. Lujan-Grisham signed the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. It passed both chambers of the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

This year, the legislature appropriated $100 million to the fund, with $50 million slated to be spent over the next four years, and $50 million put into a permanent fund to generate interest. The legislature made a commitment to put an additional $75 million into it during each of the next three legislative sessions. This will mean that in four years, when the permanent fund starts being spent, about fifteen million dollars will be put on the ground for restoration and conservation programs, without using any of the principal of the fund; the fund will be perpetually sustaining at that level.

Money from the fund will go to 10 existing programs, including 10% to the River Stewardship program which does riparian restoration work, 22% to the Game and Fish Department for Endangered Species work, and 22.5% to the Department of Agriculture for soil health and noxious weeds management. The rest of the spending will go toward other conservation causes. New Mexico has a documented backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars of projects. The impact of this fund cannot be overstated. As the state confronts the increasing impacts of climate change, the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund will give us critical help to be as resilient as possible. We are so grateful to the legislature, the Governor, and our partners for their commitment to this effort.

In addition to creating this fund, the legislature also funded the state’s Strategic Water Reserve at $7.5 million, which is the most ever given to the Reserve in a single year. The Reserve is one of the only mechanisms the state has to leave water in rivers, allowing it to purchase and lease available water rights for endangered species protection and Rio Grande Compact compliance. This money will allow the state to protect fish and birds along the Middle Rio Grande and other parts of the state by ensuring they have water when they need it.

As we go forward in our legislative work, we remain committed to ensuring these funds get additional money, and we thank our members for all the outreach they did to their legislators during the session.