State loses millions in federal dollars meant for outdoor recreation projects

New Mexico has forfeited more than $5 million in federal funding for outdoor recreation projects over the last three years because employees at New Mexico’s State Parks Division missed deadlines to distribute the money to projects around the state. 

The money is the state’s share of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a five decade-old federal program that funnels revenue largely from offshore oil and gas leases to outdoor recreation and land conservation efforts. The fund supports several programs, including one in which communities and tribes around the nation can apply for up to $250,000 each. Roadblocks to distributing the funds, state staff say, included lack of staffing, a maze of bureaucratic requirements, and simple missteps, like neglecting to update an email address online. Grant applications for those funds filed by New Mexico communities two years ago still await submission for federal approval. “Money is just flying out of our hands,” Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said at a Water and Natural Resources Committee in November when state lawmakers were briefed on the lost funds.