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New Mexico celebrates 15 years of collaborative conservation

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By Jeff Burwell and Whitney Forman-Cook

The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts (NMACD) is celebrating 15 years of Restore New Mexico, a conservation effort that has made a measurable difference in rangeland and forest health in the state.

NMACD and the other partners of the Bureau of Land Management’s Restore New Mexico initiative started with an ambitious goal to restore millions of acres in the state each year within priority watersheds. One of the primary ways the partners would accomplish that goal, NMACD says, was by addressing invasive species on private, state, and federal range and woodlands in New Mexico.

NMACD coordinates Restore New Mexico funding to help landowners reduce brush invasion and voluntarily implement conservation practices such as fencing, water development, and erosion control measures. To date, the association has helped implement over 170 Coordinated Resource Management Plans (CRMP) through the program; and 13 New Mexico soil and water conservation districts have developed and implemented an additional 62 watershed- or landscape-scale treatments.

“We attribute the success of Restore New Mexico to relationships,” said Debbie Hughes, the executive director for NMACD. “We are now working with the state’s third BLM director and NRCS state director since the inception of the program. Throughout the years, building and maintaining relationships has been among the most important things we do!”

Over a decade later, the Restore New Mexico initiative has restored nearly 3.5 million acres of degraded landscapes across the state. In a 2012 release recognizing the initiative’s success in providing better habitat for migratory birds, then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the effort “serves as a model for how we can accomplish large scale restoration efforts.”

“From grassroots organizations to national groups, the BLM depends on its many conservation partnerships,” Mike Pool, the former BLM deputy director, said. “Unprecedented community support and collaboration with private landowners, industry groups, and conservation organizations have made Restore New Mexico a resounding success.”

NMACD also works with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMGFD) to coordinate large-scale watershed restoration projects, and utilizes retired NRCS, BLM, and U.S. Forest Service employees (plus a current NMGFD employee) “to help coordinate with all partners at all levels,” Hughes told NACD.

In 2015, NMACD received a $4 million grant through the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to fund conservation work on private ranches and on federally-owned rangelands. In 2017, NMACD was granted $7 million through RCPP to continue its landscape-scale watershed work in partnership with ranchers, who for many years were underserved stakeholders because of jurisdictional issues created by “a checkerboard” of landownership, Hughes said.

Most recently, as part of a new agreement with the Forest Service, NMACD will be working with local forest supervisors and district rangers to develop coordinated plans for ranchers with forest permits, so that they may apply for EQIP funds.

Jeff Burwell is NACD’s western issues specialist. He also serves as the staff representative for the Southwest and Pacific Regions. To reach Jeff, email him at jeff-burwell@nacdnet.org.

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