Viva New Mexico

by Caren Cowan

Long live New Mexico sounds good, right? “Viva New Mexico: A Statewide Plan for Outdoor Recreation” doesn’t sound bad either… right up until you figure out that the goal of the plan is to take more land out of private ownership and reducing the tax base; to delve into health care, education and job placement services; and to develop broad “ordinance and jurisdiction” all with federal Land & Water Conservation Funds (LWCF).

If you are not familiar with the LWCF, it was enacted in 1964. Some of the purposes of the act are to “assist in preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility to all citizens of the United States of America of present and future generations and visitors who are lawfully present within the boundaries of the United States of America such quality and quantity of outdoor recreation resources as may be available and are necessary and desirable for individual active participation in such recreation and to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States by (1) providing funds for and authorizing Federal assistance to the States in planning, acquisition, and development of needed land and water areas and facilities and (2) providing funds for the Federal acquisition and development of certain lands and other areas.”

The LSWF monies come from taxing offshore oil and gas production. The LWCF provides money to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year for land acquisition. The authorized limit to the fund is $900,000,000. Supporters of the Fund bemoan the fact that less than that is being budgeted annually.

However, there appears to be little care to what happens to the land once it is acquired. The Fund provides maintenance dollars ONLY if those projects are related to crime reduction.

In 2016, the total LWCF federal budget request is $900 million: $400 million in discretionary funding and $500 million in permanent funding as part of a multi-year strategy leading to full permanent funding for LWCF in 2017.

On September 30, 2015 the United States Congress allowed the LWCF to expire. If the government was run like a business, not reauthorizing something would result in it going away. Not so with the federal government. The Endangered Species Act hasn’t been reauthorized since the early 1990s. However Congress continues to fund the enforcement of the ESA through annual budget appropriations. At press time we don’t know if there was funding in the budget deal reached in late October 2015.

Apparently with the expectation of continued funding, the New Mexico Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), State Parks Division, has released a draft of “Viva New Mexico: A Statewide Plan for Outdoor Recreation,” a statewide comprehensive outdoor recreation plan (SCORP) which provides recommendations to guide local, state, and federal outdoor recreation providers in achieving a common vision for outdoor recreation resources in New Mexico and identifies the economic contributions of outdoor recreation.

EMNRD says Víva New Mexico, New Mexico’s SCORP is an effort required by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, which administers the federal LWCF. LWCF funds are provided annually to New Mexico for the acquisition and development of outdoor recreation facilities.

The plan helps determine priorities for allocating the LWCF funds. To remain eligible for LWCF funding, each state is required to develop a SCORP every five years. Since LWCF began in 1965, New Mexico has received approximately $212 million for Federal agencies, $42 million for stateside grants, and $7 million for its Forest Legacy program.

The 2010-2014 New Mexico SCORP identified 4 statewide priorities:

  • Promote the livability of all communities through health and fitness.
  • Enhance economic vitality.
  • Properly use and conserve natural resources.
  • Develop a statewide trail network that facilitates recreation, transportation, and healthy lifestyles.

According to an EMNRD press release, a statewide survey completed for SCORP process found that 93 percent of adult residents participate in at least one outdoor recreation activity. According to a report prepared by Southwick Associates for the Outdoor Recreation Association in 2013, outdoor recreation supports 68,000 New Mexico jobs and ultimately $458 million in state and local tax revenue. On average, the three million out-of-state visitors who participate in outdoor recreation annually spend approximately $1,000 per trip, or $290 per day. Out-of-state visitors who attend outdoor recreation events spend about $900 on a trip associated with planned outdoor recreation events, an often-overlooked economic driver.

That press release went on to say an annual total spending estimate for outdoor recreation events in New Mexico from visitors from Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado is approximately $385 million. Viva New Mexico was developed with the thoughtful input of a technical advisory committee that included local, state and federal agencies; members of the New Mexico Recreation and Parks Association; the New Mexico Outdoor Coalition; and the New Mexico State Parks Advisory Board.

For those interested in providing comments on the plan, the State Parks Division will offer a simultaneous webinar. Viva New Mexico may be viewed through this link: http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/scorp/index.html . Additionally, there is a survey on the EMNRD website to provide input at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2377177/Viva-New-Mexico-Comments . Please take 10 minutes and fill out the survey.

Here are just a few of the items you will be asked to rate:

  • Provide LWCF stateside funding to local governments.
  • Accelerate the implementation of federal and county travel management plans to adequately designate and implement suitable OHV routes. Increase rate of trail implementation through alternative funding sources such as alternative transportation funding, clean air mitigation and volunteers
  • Secure funding to staff a position to coordinate implementation and management of the Rio Grande Trail.
  • Acquire fee-simple, trail easements, or complete land swaps to close the gaps in trails and open spaces to create contiguous recreational opportunities.
  • Work with partners to identify and complete new National Recreation Trails and side-connecting trails to communities along National Trails and major state trails
  • Encourage parents to be actively involved in their children’s education and physical activity goals through school-based extended-learning programs and providing services to parents (English learning, employment services, accessing healthcare)
  • Help schools correlate environmental education and physical fitness programs to the state common core standards.
  • Promote the development of a prescription trails program in more communities throughout the state and provide support to healthcare practitioners to prescribe patients specific activities in specific places
  • Help schools develop effective plans to improve the health of students by implementing district wellness policies and strong health programs and practices.
  • Develop partnerships between the healthcare community and local organizations and governments that will lead to increased activity through the use of parks and open space.
  • Conserve the special places in and around each community through fee-simple acquisition or conservation easements.
  • Update development regulations, such as wetland regulations, to conserve environmentally sensitive lands and improve resiliency to natural disasters.

n Develop and improve ordinances and jurisdiction at the state or local level that protect wetlands, riparian areas, and the buffers around them at the local level, and that ensure that vulnerable and isolated wetlands are protected from impacts.

n Improve growth management tools by improving development ordinances and jurisdiction at the state or local level that protect critical wildlife habitats and the buffers around them to limit habitat impacts and fragmentation.

One could conclude that EMNRD is looking to create a monster bureaucracy taking in the functions of the departments of education, health, workplace solutions, tourism and who knows what else, all in the name of spending federal funds.

It even looks like there may be some double dipping. The New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (NMDGF), that is administratively attached to EMNRD, is currently working on its Statewide Action Plan (SWAP) seeking to secure about $1 million annually for conservation and habitat management funding to protect species of greatest concern, some 455 of them in the state. But the monies are coming from two different funds, so maybe that’s okay.

On the subject of SWAP…

Agriculture greatly appreciates the extra steps the New Mexico Game Commission and the Department Director are taking to receive public input in the SWAP. The Commission will be making a final decision on the SWAP at their November 19, 2015 meeting in Roswell.

Other big decisions…

The Commission will also be hearing the Turner Endangered Species Fund’s appeal of the denial of a permit to bring wolves to private property in New Mexico. The Commission denied both the Turner and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) permits at their June meeting. The FWS appealed their denial in August. In September the Commission upheld its’ FWS denial.

As expected the FWS has notified the NMDGF that they will ignore the denial and move forward with wolf introduction on federal lands in New Mexico. The State is presently considering potential legal action.

We reiterate, Ted Turner has the right to do whatever he wants on private land that he owns in New Mexico and elsewhere. He does not have the right to harm other private property owners with his actions. Given that the wolves go to Turner in preparation for release elsewhere, clearly he is violating the rights of others.

Updates

On the workers’ compensation insurance front, the agricultural community continues to wait on a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court on whether or not a stay of the Court of Appeals decision regarding the constitutionality of the agricultural workers’ comp exemption. The briefing on the issue is complete. The Supreme Court could rule tomorrow or never.

At the same time, legislation is being drafted to submit to the 2016 New Mexico Legislature. Please plan on making some time to come to Santa Fe during the Legislature to assist in the passage of this legislation.

Where’s the BEEF?

That’s the question that was asked many times at the 2015 New Mexico State Fair. Where was the big New Mexico Beef Council booth in the Lujan Building? The fact is that the Fair priced themselves out of reach for the Beef Council several years ago.

It was sad to learn that the Fair saw fit to serve a vegetarian meal at the Junior Livestock Sale. And lest you have heard the ugly rumor that we continue to hear, we take a point of personal privilege. For the record, Caren Cowan had nothing to do with the Junior Livestock Sale, good, bad or indifferent, at the invitation of Fair management several months prior to the Fair.