September 24, 2009

Senate Approves Bill that Funds N.M. Public Lands

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall today announced that the Senate has approved a spending bill that funds important public lands initiatives in New Mexico.

The fiscal year 2010 Interior Appropriations Bill contains an amendment Bingaman wrote and Udall cosponsored aimed at ensuring there that is adequate federal funding available to help fight wildfires. The measure creates a separate account to pay for fighting large, complex wildland fires. This move would prevent the Forest Service from raiding other accounts to pay for such expensive fires, preventing shortfalls in other Forest Service programs.

"Funding wildfire fighting has become almost as difficult as fighting the fires themselves. Today we took a significant step toward solving many of the recurring problems associated with expenses at the Forest service and Interior Department," said Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"With more severe drought conditions in New Mexico and increasing catastrophic wildfire danger, we have a responsibility to take the necessary precautions," said Udall. "With our amendment, we are helping ensure that New Mexico is prepared for these threats."

The bill, which will now be the subject of a Senate-House of Representatives conference panel, contains funding the senators sought for the following lands projects:

  • $3.5 million –Valles Caldera National Preserve for operations
  • $3 million – Land Acquisition of riparian areas in the Gila National Forest
  • $3 million – Land Acquisition for La Cienega Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Santa Fe County)
  • $1.5 million – Lesser Prairie Chicken Area of Critical Environmental Concern (Chaves County)
  • $500,000 – Land Acquisition within Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (Socorro County)
  • $1.6 million – "Forest Legacy" Conservation Easement for the Vallecitos High Country (Río Arriba County)
  • $2.2 million – Navajo Technical College for operations

The spending bill also funds other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, and sets aside funding the following projects:

  • $300,000 – City of Portales for wastewater treatment plant improvements
  • $300,000 – City of Carlsbad for a water reuse project
  • $500,000 – for the U.S. Geological Survey to continue implementation of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Aquifer Assessment Act that is characterizing, mapping, and modeling groundwater resources along the border.

"From protecting our state's public lands to helping communities fund water projects, this bill makes a great investment in our state," Bingaman said.

"In this legislation, we are making significant and necessary investments for responsible land and water usage, as well as education in our state," said Udall. "I am glad it's one step closer to being signed into law."