Policy Update

New Mexico Land and Water Funding Bill Strengthens Tribal Engagement and Boosts Outdoor Equity

March 7, 2024



NCEL Point of Contact

Grant Gliniecki
Outdoor Policy Coordinator



On February 28, New Mexico enacted S.B.169, promoting stronger relationships with Tribal nations on conservation and recreation through Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF). State and federal Land and Water funds now prioritize Tribal funding requests, encompass more rural underserved communities, and empower state agencies to provide outreach and technical assistance for applicants. 

The Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) distributes funding to improve local access to outdoor recreation in nature. The 2020 Great American Outdoors Act permanently allocates $900 million each year to the LWCF, 40% of which must be allocated directly to states and territories. In 2023, states were entitled to $300 million to distribute to improve local access to outdoor recreation, including over $3 million in New Mexico.  

In 2024, New Mexico is one of at least 10 states considering legislation to promote mutually beneficial relationships with Tribal nations through conservation and recreation.

  • Why It Matters: Despite being distinct sovereigns from states, Tribal nations are not currently eligible for direct federal or state Land and Water Conservation Funds and must seek funding through states. In many states, difficult historic relationships between Tribes and states can make it especially challenging to benefit from some of the most effective and most underfunded conservation and recreation opportunities. New Mexico is the first state to enact into law new guidelines from the Department of the Interior directing states to seek and fund projects with Tribal nations and underserved communities. 
  • At the Federal Level: Tribal leaders, federal agencies, state and federal lawmakers, and environmental advocates have extensively studied the need for and impact of a dedicated Tribal Land and Water Conservation Fund. With support from countless local and national Indigenous leaders and environmental advocates, including Native Americans in Philanthropy, the 2024 White House budget recommended establishing a $12 million LWCF Tribal Land Acquisition Fund through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Unfortunately, the most recent congressional appropriations act does not provide for dedicated Tribal Land and Water Conservation funding.

Key Components of S.B. 169

S.B.169 recognizes the importance of engaging Tribal nations and underserved rural communities in growing outdoor opportunities and conservation efforts in New Mexico.

The bill prioritizes state allocation of Land and Water Conservation Funds for the highest-need, highest-impact projects and removes barriers preventing Tribal nations and rural communities from seeking funding. As enacted, the bill:

  • Prioritizes funding requests from Tribal nations;
  • Updates “Indian communities” to “Indian nations, tribes and pueblos (sic),” and clarifies Tribal nations are not subdivisions of the state;
  • Prioritizes funding requests from rural communities;
  • Expands eligible entities from a maximum population size of 15,000 to a maximum population of 65,000;
  • Removes funding match requirements for applicants;
  • Authorizes state parks to receive up to 7% of federal LWCF funds allocated to New Mexico to offer outreach and technical assistance to Tribes as well as to municipalities; and, 
  • Limits the definition of technical assistance to prevent an unreasonable burden on state parks.

Additional Resources