New Mexico governor joins US conservation challenge

US Politics

FILE – In this Aug. 29, 2020, file photo, is the east fork of the Jemez River flowing through Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, making New Mexico the latest western state to join an ambitious effort to conserve nearly one-third of America’s lands and waters by 2030. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order Wednesday making New Mexico the latest Western state to join an ambitious effort to conserve nearly one-third of America’s lands and waters by 2030.

The Biden administration detailed its plans in May for achieving the goal, saying conservation and restoration of lands and waters was an urgent priority. Democratic officials and environmentalists see the effort as a tool to increase green space, protect drinking water sources and reduce wildfire risks.

To make significant progress on the decadelong commitment, experts have said Western states must play a key role in the effort.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said she wants to “bring people together” in New Mexico for the initiative that she hopes will make a difference for decades to come.

Her executive order calls for the creation of a committee made up of key state agencies to draft a plan for reaching the goal. The group will meet four times a year and report back annually to the governor.

“I just want action,” Lujan Grisham said before signing the order, “but if you don’t have a guide … we’re not going to get every opportunity that we deserve.”

California was the first to formalize its 2030 conservation goal when Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a sweeping executive order last fall. Nevada followed in May with lawmakers in the Democrat-dominated state passing a resolution.

About 12% of the nation’s lands and one-quarter of its waters are currently protected, according to research by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. Wilderness areas, game refuges, agricultural lands, ranches and other sites with conservation easements are among the protected parcels.

Nationally, the Biden administration is calling for the expansion of federal grant programs to create more local parks, increase access to outdoor recreation and for Indigenous communities to access funding for conservation priorities.

In New Mexico, members of Lujan Grisham’s executive cabinet have been charged with finding ways to leverage state and federal funding and existing programs to help with the effort.

They must also consider the importance of working lands, such as farms and ranches, as well as tribal sovereignty.

The order acknowledges that “agricultural production through farming and ranching represents historic, current and future land use and embodies cultural traditions that are at risk due to drought, development, climate impacts and reduced water availability.”

A handful of rural New Mexico counties have passed resolutions in recent months opposing the effort.

Elected leaders in those communities have voiced concerns that designating more wilderness areas and imposing more restrictions would compromise the livelihoods of residents and businesses dependent on the landscape.

Republican state Sen. Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte said almost half of all land in New Mexico — the fifth largest state in the U.S. — is already owned and managed by either the state or federal government.

“We all know that our family-owned, private land is better managed, utilized and preserved,” she said. “This 30×30 initiative set forth by the governor is a thinly veiled land grab, and the people of New Mexico will not stand for it.”

Environmentalists praised Lujan Grisham’s move, arguing that it would help protect New Mexico’s outdoor heritage and the traditions of agricultural-based communities.

Theresa Pasqual, executive director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office, said it marks the start of a conversation that will allow local communities to figure out what would work best for them.

“We start that conversation by thinking about what’s in our own backyard,” she said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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