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Bill to Create Outdoor Recreation Division faces Questions

For Immediate Release

SANTA FE — Several lawmakers said Tuesday they support the concept of creating a new division within the New Mexico Department of Economic Development to promote outdoor recreation but a committee postponed a vote on the measure after questions arose about how it should be organized.

Members of the Senate Conservation Committee agreed to postpone action on SB 462 until Thursday to give the sponsor, Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, time to address the organizational concerns.

Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, said he was concerned that the bill specified the director of the proposed outdoor recreation division would be answerable only to the governor, not to the secretary of economic development. He noted that directors of all the existing divisions within the the Economic Development Department, including the film division, the Mexican affairs division and technology enterprise division, answer to the department secretary.

“To me, this is just a chain of command issue,” Payne said of the proposal to have the director of the outdoor recreation division answer directly to the governor. “Somebody’s got to be in charge.”

Steinborn responded that he and other sponsors want to establish in law that the director of outdoor recreation will have a close relationship with the governor. “It is to raise the stature and importance of this division,” he said. 

Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, instructed Steinborn to meet with Payne before the committee takes up the bill again on Thursday.

In his opening remarks, Steinborn said the intention of the bill is to build off of the state’s assets to focus on growing its outdoor economy.

Steinborn said the Outdoor Industry Association reports that the industry puts  $9.6 billion into the state’s economy. While that number is significant, he said it’s lower than surrounding states. He said eight states around the country have created offices of outdoor recreation.

“Our new governor has really embraced this as being one of the pillars of growing the economy of New Mexico and of course, we’re very blessed to have these resources in all corners of the state,” Steinborn said, adding that communities across the state are working to develop that aspect of the economy.

Steinborn said the bill would create an advisory committee including representatives of Native American communities, the state’s acequia users and federal land management agencies. The bill also calls for putting up $100,000 for a grant program to fund programs to encourage young people to get outdoors.

Garrett VeneKlasen, with Conservation Voters of New Mexico, said believes creating the outdoor recreation office would allow the state to double its $10-billion outdoor recreation industry over the next 10 years.

John Crenshaw, board president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, said the group strongly supports the bill.

Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola, said he was concerned about the prospect of adding the outdoor recreation division when he had been unable for years to get the Legislature to act on affordable housing and substance abuse issues in his district.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, responded that while he agrees the state needs to address longstanding problems, he sees the concept of creating an office of outdoor recreation as a good one.

“This is something I think can make a huge difference and the dollars that we invest will come back many times over,” Wirth said.