San Juan County Commission adopts resolution opposing conservation plan

Conservation, wildlife groups critical of commission's action

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan County commissioners took a stance against a state and national land conservation initiative during their April 5 meeting in Aztec, voting 4-1 to pass a resolution opposing the so-called 30x30 plan.

The plan is part of a Biden administration goal to conserve 30% of the nation's lands and waters by the year 2030 through a series of federal and state initiatives.

The plan has been supported by many conservation and environmental groups, but has been criticized as a federal "land grab" by the leader of an organization dedicated to preserving private property rights who addressed the commission last month.

Commissioners Terri Fortner, John Beckstead, Steve Lanier and Michael Sullivan voted for the resolution, while Commissioner GloJean Todacheene voted against it.

The resolution states the commission's opposition would apply until more information can be obtained regarding the initiative's effect on land ownership and usage in San Juan County. Supporters of the 30x30 plan have acknowledged that the plan is in its early stages of development and includes few specifics.

The commission's action drew a quick response from the leaders of five New Mexico-based conservation groups, who issued a group news release expressing their continued support for the 30x30 plan and outlining their disappointment in the commission's action.

"New Mexicans across the state overwhelmingly support safeguarding our vulnerable landscapes and watersheds, with 80% supporting the 30x30 goals," Greg Peters, the senior advocate of lands, water and wildlife for Conservation Voters New Mexico in a statement issued through the news release. "It's unfortunate that San Juan County Commissioners instead chose to embrace fear and misinformation from out-of-state-interest groups."

Peters and Gwen Lachelt, the executive leader of the Western Leaders Network, praised Todacheene for voting against the resolution and supporting the 30x30 plan.

Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild, offered more pointed criticism of the commission's action in his statement.

" … I think it is the obligation of local, elected leaders to hear all sides, know the facts and provide opportunities for real dialogue before being cowed by fearmongering and baseless assertions by those coming into New Mexico to make a buck by dividing us," he said. "The irony is that (conservation) action isn't just urgently needed, it is also an opportunity for San Juan County to look at locally driven solutions to attract investment, grow the outdoor recreation economy, steward public lands, help private landowners mitigate the effects of drought, and secure resources for restoration and wildlife habitat. We're ready to help when the commission gets serious about leading."

Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, characterized the 30x30 plan as an initiative that would prevent habitat loss and support robust populations of wildlife in his statement.

"Whether we're talking about fly fishing the world famous San Juan River, or pursuing mule deer in one of the most coveted units in northwest New Mexico, 30x30 is the insurance policy we need to provide our children and grandchildren with these same opportunities," he said.

Norman Norvelle, a Farmington resident and member of the Northern New Mexico Executive Committee of the Sierra Club, referenced the efforts of San Juan County officials to diversify the local economy in his statement.

"If we are going to promote the local outdoors and outdoor activities in the San Juan Basin, we need to do the 30x30 plan," he said.

During its April meeting, the commission also voted unanimously in favor of a resolution expressing opposition to a 20-year ban on oil and gas development within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historic Park. The resolution states the commission would join the Navajo Nation and several of its chapters in supporting a ban on such activity in a 5-mile radius around the park, which is half the distance proposed by the Biden administration.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.