2021: Year in Review | Words from Our Board Chair
Thanks to the outstanding work of our staff, the condition of the New Mexico Land Conservancy is excellent. December 2021 marked the end of my first three-year term serving on the New Mexico Land Conservancy Board of Directors—the last two years of which I have had the privilege to serve as Board chair. During each of our Board and Committee meetings, I have been amazed and impressed by how much our small, effective staff of seven people manages to accomplish. The land conservation projects they have taken on in the past few years are increasingly complex, particularly those that involve federal or state funding.
In addition to these larger projects, NMLC continues to help conserve some of the smaller agricultural and open space properties that exemplify New Mexico’s rich land heritage, cultural diversity, scenic beauty, and that often protect small but valuable resources of concern within New Mexico’s smaller communities.
As an organization, NMLC’s fiscal health remains strong. NMLC owns its headquarters offices in Santa Fe, thanks to the generosity of the late Jane Petchesky who donated her adobe-style ranch house and the 280 acres it sits on to NMLC to use for this purpose. NMLC has virtually no debt and maintains a healthy stewardship fund to support the monitoring and legal defense of the 112 conservation easements it holds over 339,925 acres of land. And thanks to its diversified income model, NMLC was able to weather a second year of the pandemic.
As the conservation projects get larger and more complex, timelines can get longer, with some projects now taking two years or more to complete. NMLC’s capable team continues to demonstrate the expertise and tenacity needed to see these diverse and multi-faceted projects through to closing.
In tandem with the standard, annual audit required for all New Mexico nonprofits, FY2021 was the second year an additional “single audit” was required due to the increase in federal funding NMLC received for conservation projects. (If you want a definition of “single audit,” ask your favorite CPA.) I am happy to say that NMLC received a “clean” report from the auditors. An interesting statistic to note from the audit was the finding that less than 5% of NMLC’s total budget went to administrative and fundraising expenses. Over 95% of NMLC’s budget expenses were used for conservation programs. That is a number for which any nonprofit should be proud!
Determining which conservation projects NMLC should commit to—that is, where to best spend the organization’s human and monetary capital for the greatest conservation value and public benefit—is at the heart of the Board’s leadership responsibility, and it can be challenging. In recent years, NMLC has maintained a tight balance between the need for and cost of organizational growth, and to date, we have not had to turn down any projects that meet our selection criteria. However, as NMLC continues to increase its portfolio of conservation easements, the logistics of annually monitoring more and larger easements must be considered as well. To that end, NMLC is exploring new technologies such as GIS innovations and satellite monitoring for staff efficiency and cost effectiveness.
From my perspective as Board chair, 2021 was indeed another successful year for conservation and for NMLC. The projects completed this year protected important resources in critical places from very real development pressures.
I look forward to seeing this year’s ongoing work on several large projects across New Mexico and southeast Arizona coming to fruition in the year to come, and to that end, I have committed to a second term with NMLC and to continue as Chair for 2022. Board recruitment and development remains one of our highest priorities as terms come to an end for some of our long-time members. This year we added five new members to our Board who bring new energy and diverse perspectives to the table. I am honored to serve with this fine group of dedicated professionals who together with NMLC’s Executive Director and expert staff will continue to achieve tangible and lasting conservation successes for New Mexico.
―Walter Stern, Board Chair
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The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a statewide, non-profit land trust that works to conserve land, water, natural and cultural resources at community, watershed and landscape scales throughout New Mexico and southeast Arizona. In 2005, NMLC set forth the ambitious goal of protecting one million acres of high-conservation value land, directly or in partnership with others, by 2030. To date, NMLC has completed 115 conservation easements over 655,000 acres of land, so it is well on its way to achieving this goal. For more information, please visit the organization’s website at: www.nmlandconservancy.org.