Photograph of restoration efforts under the Restore New Mexico initiative.
The Restore New Mexico initiative started with an ambitious goal: to pool resources to restore hundreds of thousands of acres of land each year within priority watersheds. (BLM)

Restore New Mexico:  A Model for the Nation

By Jesse Juen

Seven years ago, a program was launched that would change the history of land management in New Mexico and the nation.  A vision to work with partners in restoring degraded landscapes across the state became action and, with 2 million acres restored since 2005, results on a historic scale.

Partners under the Restore New Mexico initiative started with an ambitious goal:  to pool their resources to restore hundreds of thousands of acres of land each year within priority watersheds, regardless of land ownership, leading to the restoration of landscapes to their full ecological potential.  By “restoration” we mean soils, native vegetation, groundwater supplies, and wildlife habitat, not to mention the fabled landscapes of the American West, the special places that give us our sustenance and spirit.

Truth be told, we didn’t know if this vision was doable on the scale we had hoped for.  The bottom line was that we wanted to make a difference; everyone interested in restoring land was, and is, welcome to join us.  It’s only because of the many partners involved in this effort—the BLM, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other federal and state agencies, local communities, soil and water conservation districts, ranchers and other individuals, the energy industry, and conservation groups—that we have restored so much land.

As fate would have it, in 2006 the NRCS was piloting an effort to allow the use of Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds on federal lands in Arizona and New Mexico, provided that these funds were matched by the agencies and private landowners within grazing allotments.  By 2012, we had leveraged almost $10 million in contributions toward these efforts with more than 350 partners.  

Our motto has always been “Git R Done!”  We have made tremendous strides in the amount of acreage treated, however, the restoration is not always immediate—sometimes it takes 3-6 years to see results.  And there are still another 3.5 million acres in New Mexico that could use some sort of restoration work, such as thinning of overgrown forests; reductions in mesquite, creosote, and salt cedar; and reclamation of abandoned oil fields.  

Energy companies are implementing voluntary conservation measures and best management practices in their operations.  In 2009, the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pioneered the use of cooperative conservation agreements on public lands leased for oil and gas development or livestock grazing to implement conservation measures for the lesser prairie-chicken and sand dune lizard, which are both candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

So, what does the future hold?  We will continue to expand restoration and reclamation efforts and recruit partners to join us.  Our ground rules are simple:  we’re not playing a blame game, identifying which group was responsible for damaging what landscape.  Neither is Restore New Mexico an ideological or political undertaking; it is a historic effort that will continue for the long term because of the substantial benefits it creates for the citizens of New Mexico and the nation. 

Jesse Juen is the state director for New Mexico.  Prior to that, he was a wildlife biologist, a field manager, and the group manager for national conservation areas and national monuments within BLM’s National Landscape Conservation System office in Washington, DC.