Joe Biden signs bill to boost New Mexico’s outdoor recreation

Carlsbad’s famed hiking trails, fishing holes and desert vistas will be easier to access after a bill sponsored by New Mexico’s senior U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich was signed into law by President Joe Biden.

The Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act was passed by the U.S. Senate last month before heading to President’s desk for signature.

The new law will call on federal agencies to digitize mapping information like access points to federal public land resources while also including information on permissible uses.

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It will help boost New Mexico’s growing outdoor recreation industry, Heinrich said, which will rely on improved access and awareness.

About 65 percent of New Mexicans participate in some form of outdoor recreation annually, per a report from the Outdoor Industry Association, while the industry contributes about $9.9 billion in consumer spending and $623 million in state and local tax revenue.

The sector also represents 99,000 direct jobs, the report read, accounting for $2.8 billion in wages.

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Nationally, the industry $887 billion in consumer spending, per the report, and 7.6 million jobs.

Heinrich said modernizing and supporting the industry was a key component of New Mexico’s economic diversity.

“With our expansive skies and remote open spaces in New Mexico, modernizing access to our public lands will help people better navigate the great outdoors and play a key role in growing our state’s recreation economy,” he said.

The MAPLand Act was also sponsored by U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho).

More:New Mexico publishes 5-year plan to leverage federal outdoor recreation dollars

It was supported by conservation and sportsmen groups throughout the country who argued the law would improve access to natural resources.

Federal funds will be invested in modernized mapping systems that can be accessed through global positioning systems (GPS) and used by outdoor recreation participants.

Federal agencies will also be required to make public information like legal easements across private land, seasonal closures of access roads and trails, vehicle restrictions and boundaries of various areas designed for specific uses like hunting.

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Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said the law’s passage will help Americans get better access to outdoor recreation activities.

“Hunters and anglers as well as our partners in the outdoor industry have been vocal champions of the MAPLand Act since it was first introduced, because we know that this common-sense investment will empower more people to get outside and discover new recreational opportunities,” Fosburgh said.

“Hunters and anglers across the country have good reason to celebrate this moment, which again demonstrates that conservation and our uniquely American public lands system transcend partisanship.”

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A study published in November by the Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked New Mexico as 27th in the nation in outdoor recreation, as it contributed about 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) – about $2 billion.

Axie Navas, director of the State’s Outdoor Recreation Division within the Economic Development Department said last year was one of recovery for the industry after it suffered declines amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

She said in the last year, the state saw a 30 percent growth in boating and fishing, along with a 10 percent increase in biking and other activities.

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And the State worked to support local outdoor recreation projects, Navas said, awarding $898,000 in grant funding to 57 recipients that Navas estimated could result in up to 20,000 children gaining access to outdoor recreation.

Twenty-five projects throughout the state received funding from the Division’s Trails+ program that provides funding to local projects like hiking trails, rivers and wildlife viewing areas, totaling in about $560,000 in state funds.

The State planned to use about $2 million in relief funds granted by the federal Economic Development Administration and $10 million provided this year by the Legislature during its recent session to supported continued growth in the industry, Navas said.

“That’s economic development but also community development. How we make sure there is access to these opportunities,” she said. “It’s that community quality of life. We’re striving for growth. We can be No. 1 one, but we have to do it in our way.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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