Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gov. Richardson signs bill to allow conservation easements

A new law will allow the state to acquire conservation easements from farmers, ranchers and other landowners to ensure that the property is not developed.

Gov. Bill Richardson on Monday signed legislation into law that supporters say can help protect land in New Mexico, improve wildlife habitat and provide for open space for communities or recreation.

"New Mexicans want their land preserved. They are committed to conservation, to wildlife," Richardson said at a news conference at ranch south of Santa Fe, which is protected by a conservation easement with a nonprofit group. The agreement prevents the ranch from being broken up into smaller parcels for real estate development.

The new law, which takes effect May 19, also establishes a fund for the state to make grants for conservation and land restoration projects. The legislation was approved by lawmakers during a 30-day session, which ended in February.

Lawmakers allocated $5 million for conservation easements during a special session of the Legislature, which ended last week.

Despite the state's current financial problems, House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said it was important to earmark money for land conservation.

"If we don't do it now, when? Do we do it when all the land is gone?" Lujan said at the news conference with Richardson.

With a conservation easement, landowners can enter into an agreement with the state to ensure there's no development on the land. The individual will continue to own the property, however, and the conservation easement will apply to those who buy or inherit the property in the future. The new law does not allow the state to buy the land, however.

"Protection of New Mexico's conservation heritage makes good economic sense. As New Mexico's population expands, the value of our wildlife resources are increasingly being appreciated and recognized as a major economic and renewable resource," Karyn Stockdale, executive director for Audubon New Mexico, said in a statement. "The Natural Heritage Conservation Act is not only protecting our natural lands, it is investing in New Mexico's long-term economic future, a win-win scenario for all involved."

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