As of last week, add New Mexico to the list of states supporting the permanent protection of farm and ranch lands with state funding. On March 8th, Governor Bill Richardson signed the Natural Heritage Conservation Act into law. The new legislation creates the “Natural Heritage Conservation Fund,” which will provide grants to fund conservation easements on private lands to protect, among other important resource concerns, farming and ranching values. More importantly, the New Mexico Legislature and Governor Richardson agreed to prime the new fund with $5.0 million.
New Mexico joins another newcomer, Wisconsin, which just last summer allocated $12 million to a new state Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program, in creating and funding programs to protect farmland in an otherwise tight fiscal environment.
Protecting farm and ranch lands makes good economic sense – the land is available for future generations, managed by private landowners; opportunities for farming and ranching to continue to contribute to the economic health of local communities are maintained and fostered; and, the multiple environmental and cultural values associated with agricultural lands are sustained.
Governor Richardson noted that the new fund will enable New Mexico to leverage funding from federal programs, such as the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Fund which, since its creation in 1996, has provided over $739 million in matching funds to state, local and private farm and ranch land protection projects across the country — and, as of 2007, has helped protect more than 530,000 acres of farm and ranch land in America. The program is slated for $175 million in FY 2011 and we encourage Congress to support this key funding during the current budget debates.
Congratulations to New Mexico for joining the ranks of forward-looking states who are recognizing the long-term value of farm and ranch lands in a time of economic challenges.
About the author: Bob Wagner has been on the staff of American Farmland Trust since 1985 and worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.