Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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New Mexico’s Conservation Groups have learned there is power in numbers and have been forming coalitions to make sure their voices are heard by lawmakers. With Governor Lujan Grisham’s announcement of her executive order “Protecting New Mexico’s Lands, Watersheds, Wildlife and Natural Heritage,” it looks like she and her administration are listening. There are some, however, who believe the executive order is simply a land grab in disguise.

The executive order, designed to protect 30 percent of the state’s land by 2030, could represent a critical step toward conserving the state’s biodiversity and the natural landscapes of our high mountain desert for generations to come. Lujan Grisham believes the executive order will bolster our economy, expand access to the outdoors and increase opportunities for hunting and fishing.

Representative Kristina Ortez said, “Revitalizing and funding New Mexico’s state conservation programs provides a path toward a more diverse economy while staying true to who we are and where we come from.”

In many ways the New Mexico governor’s executive order mirrors the Biden administration’s “30 x 30” program, which has come under harsh criticism for its intent to “permanently protect 30 percent of our lands and oceans in their natural state by 2030.”  The “30 x 30” has now been rebranded as “America the Beautiful.”

The coalition supporting Lujan Grisham’s executive order represents a broad base of advocates for the health of the Land of Enchantment. “Conserving our public lands and wild places is necessary to combat the climate crisis that is getting more dire every year,” said Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild.

Governors from at least 15 states sent a letter to Biden opposing his 30 x 30 agenda. Those states include many western and central U.S. states like Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Several counties in New Mexico also signed resolutions opposing the 30 x 30 including Lea, Catron, Chaves, Otero and the Logan Board of Education.

“I think [Lujan Grisham’s executive order] it’s 30 x 30 on steroids,” said American Stewards of Liberty Executive Director Margaret Byfield. She said the Biden administration’s goal is for 50 percent of land and oceans in the U.S. to be controlled by the state and federal government, noting it’s part of a bigger environmental movement around the globe known as the “Half-Earth agenda” with a goal of setting aside one half of all area on Earth in its natural state, as untouched by human hands.

Lujan Grisham’s executive order appears to back this assertion up by ordering, “The State of New Mexico sets the goal of having at least 30 percent of all lands in New Mexico conserved by 2030, with an additional 20 percent designated as climate stabilization areas.”  The order reflects the nationwide effort to protect the nation’s lands and waters; however, it is tailored to honor New Mexico’s traditional land uses.

Theresa Pasqual, executive director of Acoma Historic Preservation Office, said she believes the “New Mexico executive order is the start of a conversation that will allow local communities, much like mine, to start the discussions about how best we can achieve that goal of preserving and protecting 30 percent of our lands and waters here in the state.”

Byfield said she anticipates state-controlled agencies will target private landowners. Approximately 35.4 percent, or 27.5 million acres, of the State of New Mexico is federal land. Another 30 percent is state-controlled land, leaving only about 44 percent, or 33.9 million acres, of the state’s 77.7 million acres as privately owned or deeded. “I don’t know how they can do this without impacting private lands,” she said.

Byfield was invited by Lea County Commissioners Dean Jackson and Pat Sims in July to give a presentation and explain what the 30 x 30 program will do to landowners, ranchers, oil and gas producers, hunters and outdoor sports enthusiasts. The Troy Harris Center in Lovington was filled to standing-room-only to hear her presentation. “We’re looking at a huge land grab that is going to fundamentally change land ownership in America,” Byfield said.

Jackson said Lujan Grisham’s action shows she is out of touch with the needs of the state. “She has just declared war against all of New Mexico,” Jackson said. “Not only rural, she declared war against you too. What she just said is your private property is not your private property anymore.”

The executive order directs the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, New Mexico Environment Department, Office of the State Engineer, Department of Agriculture, the Indian Affairs Department and the director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and Outdoor Recreation Division to utilize their existing authorities to support and implement programs that conserve, protect and enhance our lands and natural environments.

All agencies must engage with federal land management agencies in planning and coordinate with New Mexican stakeholders. To ensure diverse land uses around the state are represented, a committee of agency leaders is tasked with working with local communities for their recommendations. The best available science is to be considered, and the agencies are to take a broad view of conservation, including contributions from working lands and demonstrate a commitment to equity, including respect for and consideration of tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

Brophy Toledo, a member of the Jemez Pueblo, said protecting natural resources before they are lost forever is a high priority for New Mexico’s pueblo communities. “Our connection to the land and water runs deep and is a major part of our collective identity. While there is still work to do, today’s 30 x 30 announcement is a good first step toward leaving behind a cleaner world for our children.”

Lujan Grisham said her order’s broad view of conservation reflects the importance of traditional resource protection, access for outdoor recreation, contributions of working lands, and tribal sovereignty and self-determination. “We have set the wheels in motion to conserve our state’s incredible natural resources and ensure that New Mexico remains, forever, the Land of Enchantment.”

Written by

Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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