By: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Inter-Mountain Western States Coordinator
On February 5th, New Mexico Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair, Senator Steven Neville introduced Senate Bill (SB) 273, the “Agriculture and Natural Resources Trust Act.”
The Agriculture and Natural Resources Trust Act (ANRTA) would create a state trust fund for the purpose of establishing a perpetual funding source to be used in the allocation of agricultural and natural resource trust grants to be awarded to eligible entities and projects.
Eligible entities would include “state agencies, political subdivision of the state, Indian nations, tribes or pueblos or non-profit organizations to promote, preserve and enhance native wildlife, natural resource or environmental heritage of New Mexico and its people.” Eligible projects must provide a public benefit and may include those that:
(1) Improve stream, wetland and hydrological function, reduce erosion, increase surface and ground water supplies, restore and maintain acequias and community ditches, restore or enhance wetlands, improve water quality or ensure the long-term conservation of water resources;
(2) Preserve or conserve open space, cultural or agricultural land and resources and habitat for fish, migratory birds, native wildlife or plants through purchase or acquisition of land use easements;
(3) Improve and maintain habitat necessary to maintain optimum populations of terrestrial or aquatic species;
(4) Enhance native fish or native wildlife habitat in areas impacted by residential, energy, mineral or industrial development;
(5) Use habitat improvements to promote the health of both livestock and native wildlife, and reduce potential for disease transmission;
(6) Protect native flora and fauna, restore degraded habitat or improve or maintain rangeland health and productivity;
(7) Achieve habitat improvement by restoring natural fire regimes, including using prescribed fire in consultation with the state forester; reducing the risk of catastrophic fire; or restoring watersheds impacted by fire; or
(8) Implement land and watershed management techniques that promote soil and rangeland health and productivity, increase water infiltration, improve wetland function, increase drought and climate adaptation or improve fish and native wildlife habitat.
Grant recipients would be selected by the 9 member ANRTA board. Members of the board would consist of the commissioner of public lands, or the commissioner’s designee; the director of the Department of Game and Fish, or the director’s designee; the director of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, or the director’s designee; and six public members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the senate, including a member representing hunting or fishing interests, land conservation interests, and energy industry interests, as well as a member of an Indian nation, tribe or pueblo.
Specific to the New Mexico’s outdoor sporting community, the ANRTA board’s project evaluation criteria includes whether or not projects “improve public access to natural areas and outdoor recreation opportunities, including hunting and fishing,” among several others. Additionally, grant funds would be available for advancing the Making Public Lands Public initiative by authorizing fee simple acquisition of real property under numerous conditions, including if the property is needed to create public access to landlocked public lands. Land easements purchased with funds from the ANRTA would not be able to prohibit hunting or fishing, if hunting or fishing could be conducted without impeding the underlying purposes and conservation values of the easement.
Additionally, land easements funded in whole or in part by the ANRTA would bind parties to the easement in an agreement that delineates the state as a third-party beneficiary. As such, the state would have the contingent right to enforce the terms of the easement if the grantee fails to enforce them. Furthermore, if the easement was transferred for value, sold or extinguished without the consent of the ANRTA board, the state shall have the right to either take legal action to enforce the terms of the easement or to recover from the proceeds of the transaction the state share of the proceeds based on the funds provided for the creation of the easement.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?