It would take $9 million a year for New Mexico to get the money to conserve endangered species and plants and prevent federal restrictions on land access.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Restoration of Wildlife of America (RAWA) Act last year to allocate $1.4 billion annually to state wildlife management agencies and indigenous peoples to restore habitats and species across the country.
It was passed by the US House of Representatives earlier this year, and then moved to the Senate for a vote with many lawmakers expecting the bill to pass due to broad bipartisan support.
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Records show that the House version has 152 sponsors from the Democratic Party, and 42 sponsors from the Republican Party. In the Senate, Heinrich’s version had 25 Democratic sponsors, 16 Republicans, and one independent.
The funding will be tied to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which sees the species listed as most “endangered” or least “vulnerable”.
Listing either situation results in land-use restrictions designed to protect the status of the listed species.
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This could reduce industrial activities such as oil and gas exploration, such as in southeastern New Mexico amid populations of lesser prairie chickens that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing as endangered throughout the region and West Texas.
To offset some of the wildlife management costs, and prevent such federal actions, RAWA will allocate $27 million annually to New Mexico through the Game and Fish Management.
But the bill requires states to provide similar funds, meaning New Mexico will need to spend an additional $9 million annually to access the program.
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That spending was a sticking point for lawmakers on the temporary Water and Natural Resources Committee as they met Friday at Northern New Mexico College in Espanola.
Fish and Wildlife Director Michael Sloan said his department will request a special budget appropriation this year for the first year of the RAWA program.
He said Game and Fish gets about $1 million a year for the work, which isn’t enough to make a difference.
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“Inclusion of species on these lists reduces New Mexico’s biodiversity and limits its access to land. RAWA will give us funding to pursue larger and larger projects to benefit endangered species,” Sloan said. “New Mexico’s biodiversity must be celebrated and promoted.”
But lawmakers were concerned that the one-time accreditation might not establish the agency for the coming years of RAWA funding.
Senator Peter Wirth (D-25) suggested that the money come from recurring revenue and be placed as a line item in the state’s general fund that makes up its budget each year as agreed by lawmakers during the annual session.
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“This is great legislation, and we’re going to cross our fingers through the finish line. My questions will be about where we’re going to find the $9 million,” Wirth said.
“I don’t see this as a window to use non-recurring funds. We need to include this in our budget. This sounds to me like something that needs its own line item.”
Senator Pat Woods (R-7) has questioned whether funding from the legislature is the right idea for an administration that has so far been funded primarily through hunting and fishing licensing, but could be subject to further debate from lawmakers if $9 million of the budget.
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“You get pretty well self-financed with everything you do,” he said. “Now you will give up if we put you in the general fund.”
He also questioned whether the focus on restoring endangered species would shift game and fish away from their regulation of hunting and fishing, and delve into environmental issues such as climate change and pollution believed to be a driving factor in threats to the species in New Mexico.
“Looks like you’re going to change the scope of your department,” Woods said. “We no longer manage game animals. We will manage wildlife too.”
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Sloan responded by saying the department has always had the authority to manage endangered and non-gaming species but lacks the funds to do so.
With funding under RAWA and through an appropriation of $9 million, he said Game and Fish will be able to fulfill an important duty to protect distressed plants and animals in New Mexico.
“It is not a change in our department. We already have that legal authority,” he said. “We didn’t have enough money to make a real generational difference for these species.”
Rep. Martin Zamora (R-63) urged lawmakers and state officials to focus funding on educating farmers and ranchers already working on land amid species habitats in conservation practices.
“My hope is this America’s Wildlife Recovery Act will be more to educate farmers and ranchers to be better stewards of the land,” he said. “We see[agriculture and ranching]groups in New Mexico, and I think these groups should be very much involved in these conversations when this legislation comes up.
“It’s a lot of money. There are a lot of rules.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, email@example.com, or AdrianHedden on Twitter.