This blog is about hiking trips along the Valles Caldera Rim. For more information, see link for the Valles Caldera Rim Trail blog.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brief Presentation on 2009 Public Use and Access Planning Process at Valles Caldera Trust Meeting

On Friday, December 12, 2008, the Los Alamos Monitor ran an article by Roger Snodgrass that gave a brief synopsis of the December 11, 2008 meeting of the Valles Caldera Trust (VCT), in Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bratcher Named Preserve Director.

There was a short presentation at the meeting by Martin Chavez and Tom Christensen. I believe they are part of the Enterprise Technical Services team that the VCT will use in the development of alternatives for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process. They will be working with the public in Spring 2009 to gather input on the what uses and access the public envisions for the Preserve.

Martin was with the forest service for 33 years and Tom is a conservation and recreation planner. Tom says he helped plan Land Between the Lakes in Tennessee and that it's similar in plan to the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP).

The planners will solicit public comment and then have a "testing process" in April-May 2009 for different public use and access ideas. It's unclear to me if that "testing process" only includes indoor sessions in public workshops, using storyboards to plot out alternative ideas or if it will also include actual testing of alternatives on the ground in the Preserve. It may be a combination.

The planners welcome "packages of options" for public use and access as prepared by the public.

I don't have contact information for Tom Christensen but Martin can be contacted at:

Martin Chavez
VCT Public Access/Use Coordinator
(505) 428-7737
mdchavez_6@msn.com
Valles Caldera Trust
18161 State Highway 4
PO Box 359
Jemez Springs, NM 87025

Monday, December 8, 2008

Valles Caldera Trust Public Meeting This Thursday

Below is a copy of the agenda for the meeting of the Valles Caldera Trust. There will be a discussion of the planning process for public access and use of the VCNP. There will be a chance for public comment at the end of the meeting.

VALLES CALDERA TRUST
PUBLIC MEETING

December 11, 2008


Marriott Courtyard


3347 Cerrillos Road

Santa Fe, NM 87507


AGENDA

1:00 PM Welcome and Introductions
  • Approval of Agenda
  • Approval of September 11, 2008 Public and Working Meeting Minutes
1:15 Board Business
  • Authorize Future Executive Sessions
  • Announce Schedule of Public Meetings - 2009
1:30 Business Operations
  • GAO Report
  • FY08 Budget Update
  • Audit Report Update
2:00 Preserve Programs
  • Preserve Manager’s/Scientist’s Report
  • Stewardship Action Planning Updates
  • Public Access and Use
  • Forage Use & Sustained Yield
  • Redondo Stewardship Project
  • Recreation and Resource Management Updates
  • 2008 Grazing Program Overview & 2009 Recommendations
  • 2008 Elk Hunt Overview
  • 2008 Recreation Program Overview
  • Preserve Scientist’s report
  • Coyote Study Report
3:15 General Public Comments

4:00 PM Adjourn

Friday, December 5, 2008

Valles Caldera National Preserve Rant


It's long been a dream of hikers in New Mexico to have a trail around the rim of the Valles Caldera in northern New Mexico. When the Baca Location became public land in 2000 and transformed into the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), the heartbeat of hikers quickened at the thought that soon this dream would become a reality. Well, nine years later, we are no closer but the dream lives on.

New Mexicans have in our own backyard 89,000 acres of land that tax-payers are being kept from fully enjoying in the futile hope that this public land will one day become financially self-sufficient. It's not only a loss to New Mexicans but also to the many people from out of state and all over the world who stop on the parking aprons along NM-4 and wistfully imagine what it would be like to explore the vast spaces of the Valles Caldera.

It's true that in a manner of speaking, the land is open to hiking but only where they allow you to go and only on their time schedule. Within the Preserve, there are a grand total of three reservation-only paid hikes for which you are dropped off somewhere and essentially told the party line of where you must hike and when you must be done hiking. It seems unreasonable to not only limit hiking venues within the Preserve but on the Valles Caldera rim too.

You can't walk in from the Valles Caldera rim without prior arrangements. You can't walk along the portions of the caldera rim owned by the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Yet, every year, hunters, after a lecture asking them not to pot-hunt on the Preserve, are set free to roam within their assigned hunting unit for a couple of days. As a hiker, I'd love to be able to do that but 9 years later, the VCNP remains largely a citadel fortress, closely protected from hikers except those who are thrilled with re-doing the three reservation-only, fee trails (and you'd better not stray away from circling around on those old logging roads because that's not part of the program!)

Recently, a proposal was made by a seasoned, Los Alamos hiker to the management at the Valles Caldera National Preserve to allow hiking on their east Valles Caldera rim, between Cerro Grande and Pajarito Mountain. Called the Cerro Grande to Pajarito Mountain Trail Proposal, it has been dismissed by the VCNP because of fear that poachers are entering the the Preserve from the east Valles Caldera rim, specifically, from Camp May (property of Pajarito Mountain Ski Area) and that to allow a break in the fence for hikers will only encourage more poaching. (Incidentally, in November, when Pajarito Mountain starts receiving snowfall, the road to Camp May is blocked to vehicular traffic until the snows are gone in the springtime. Must be those dastardly two-legged skiing and snowshoeing bunnies dragging those trophy elk out!)

I feel the refusal to consider this proposal is a chimera designed to keep the VCNP the exclusive preserve of those who are willing to pay for lovely but expensive interpretive programs that are useless to most hikers. What hikers want to do is hike, not go on a chaperoned van ride and attend a lecture while standing in place.

Anyway, what proof does the VCNP have that poaching of elk rather than innocent poaching of outdoor recreation is occurring from Camp May? As the proposal points out, the Santa Fe National Forest already has a public trail up Valle Canyon, Trail 289. How do they know that the poachers are not coming up Valle Canyon and hopping over their inviolate barbed wire boundary fence?

I believe that poaching occurs on the VCNP but why should their inability to effectively handle that problem be used as an excuse to ban hiking along their Valles Caldera rim? This seems unfair to hikers. The message seems to be that it's more important to protect their lucrative trade in trophy elk than to allow ordinary hikers to enjoy the Valles Caldera rim on foot.

Has it not occurred to the VCNP that if people were allowed to regularly traverse year-around between Pajarito Mountain and Cerro Grande, there would be more eyes to look for poachers and even act as a deterrent? One hiker pointed out that from when the elk hunts ended in November, until December 26, when the winter recreation program officially begins, the VCNP is closed to the public. (Is this how they plan to become financially self sufficient, just close down for a month and not allow anyone to get any use out of the place?) Maybe if people were actually allowed to use the place, poachers wouldn't have such an easy job of it. If I were a poacher, I'd go in right now because it's empty of visitors who could provide more eyes to spot a poacher.

Believe me, it can get really ridiculous in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Cows are allowed to trample about in the summer (bathing themselves in the streams to the horror of fisher-people) while volunteers this summer in Alamo Canyon, who only planned to camp on disturbed well pads overnight to implement a project designed to help restore the wetlands in Alamo Bog, almost weren't allowed to because the VCNP nearly "had a cow" at the wildly imaginative thought of unbathed volunteers despoiling the already highly disturbed soil of Alamo Canyon. This is, after all, where Pat Dunigan had invited intensive commercial exploration for geothermal energy in the past.

Then there's the whole issue of how selling lift tickets in the summer to those who want to make the trip over to Cerro Grande would help the Pajarito Mountain Ski Area. The ski hill already provides a wonderful program in the summer whereby hikers and bicyclists can take the lift to the top and then go down the jeep roads and volunteer-built bicycle trails on Pajarito Mountain. Why not let them expand this program and allow people to travel up the ski lifts and then walk over to Cerro Grande? This would allow the local ski hill in Los Alamos to make a little money. Why shouldn't the VCNP be nice to its neighbors?

Isn't it time to throw the hiking community another bone by allowing hiking from Pajarito Mountain to Cerro Grande? This would help to make the upcoming glacially slow National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process more bearable (more on that here).

I'm thrilled and grateful for the two unscheduled hikes that are available - the free Coyote Call and Valle Grande trails but it's so tremendously unfair to not allow people to make the trip over from Pajarito Mountain to Cerro Grande (or, for that matter, up Valle Canyon to either mountain). What would it hurt? People have been doing it for years anyway!

Why not, under the aegis of adaptive management and the umbrella of achieving financial self-sufficiency, start a whole new paradigm of interim hiking programs during the interminable NEPA process that allow hiking along the rim of the Valles Caldera or even hiking in from the rim? The VCNP's hiking program is badly in need of some variety in their offerings.

The VCNP remains for the meantime a sacred cow that tantalizes with its life-giving flesh but never allows anyone to sit down at the table to eat. Obviously, the desires of ordinary hikers like me who want a more spontaneous experience hiking along the Valles Caldera rim or even into the caldera from the rim will never be considered. The DOE land outside of White Rock is not treated like a sacred cow. Hiker's can freely walk there (and probably poachers hang out there too). There are loads of cultural sites and artifacts; yet, I'm trusted to walk that land.

I know there's a lot going on in the world that's a loads more important than gaining more hiking access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve, but maybe, just maybe, some of you could write or email your congressperson about what you would like to see happen regarding public access and use in the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

Another idea is to join an advocacy group like Caldera Action which will lobby on your behalf for sensible public access to the VCNP.

You may already be a member of a hiking group that's appalled at the present limited, reservation-only system of hiking access to the Preserve. What do your members feel about this situation? What do you feel about the present limited hiking access to the Valles Caldera National Preserve?


Quote from a visitor from Montana: "Why have they locked up the public land? Why isn't this place open?"

Give Your Feedback on Public Access and Use in the Valles Caldera National Preserve

Below is a copy of a November 24, 2008 email that Lucia Turner, Acting Executive Director, Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP), sent to update the public about the Preserve's continuation of the planning for "public access and use" that was begun on December 6, 2006 (here, under Visitor Use and Access, December 6, 2006) and will continue in 2009. This planning is a part of the VCNP's upcoming National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that is required by federal law. The letter gives a brief outline of the planning process and a rough idea of how long it will take. It tells the public how they may participate and includes exact details on how to submit comments. It is an informative letter that is respectfully cognizant of how long the public has waited for this NEPA process to begin.

A planning team, Enterprise Technical Services (ETS), that "will include engineers and landscape architects who have expertise in designing multi-use facilities on public lands and incorporating innovative techniques in planning" has been commissioned by the VCNP Board of Trustees. ETS is part of the United States Forest Service. This team will use the information gathered during public meetings in 2007 as well as a business plan being developed by ENTRIX Inc. and additional public feedback to "draft a reasonable set of alternatives" for the Preserve's NEPA process (here, under National Environmental Policy Act Procedures, July 17, 2003).

The "planning and decision-making process" required by NEPA is expected to extend into 2010-2011 before any action on public access and use is taken. Not long after that, by 2015, the VCNP is constrained to prove that they have the potential to become financially self-sufficient. The Preserve is required to have actually attained financial self-sufficiency by 2020 or become a land unit of the forest service. (Some of us who have observed the tumult of the VCNP's constant turnover of staff, administration and board members believe that financial self sufficiency will only happen with divine intervention.)

What worries me is that in the interest of forcing the VCNP to prove that they can become financially self-sufficient, the true desires and needs of the public to re-create on this public land will be lost in a welter of ill-advised money-making schemes that won't allow fair access to the Preserve except for those who have the big bucks (and I don't mean elk!) required for admission.

Do we have to wait until this tortured "Experiment in Public Land Management" mercifully ends to be allowed to enjoy this beautiful, tax-payer purchased land? Do we have to wait until then to hear no more excuses like that allowing people to hike along the rim of the Valles Caldera will only encourage poaching and trespass (more on that here)? Are you tired of this long process of waiting to be allowed to explore the land that your tax dollars purchased? Is it unreasonable to have expected greater access nine years after the VCNP became public land? How many of you feel this way? What can we do together to change this experiment in public land mis-management?

Will you please give your comments to the VCNP on what you would like to see happen in relation to your use and access of this great public land.


VCNP Letter to the Public
Valles Caldera Trust
18161 State Highway 4
P.O. Box 359
Jemez Springs, NM 87025

T 505-661-3333
F 575-829-4614
www.vallescaldera.gov
info@vallescaldera.gov

Date: November 24, 2008
File Code: VCVCPN

Friends of the Valles Caldera,

In December of 2006, the Board of Trustees authorized Trust staff to “collect data and information (Phase 1) to support planning (Phase 2, NEPA) to develop programs, facilities and infrastructure for public access and use of the Valles Caldera National Preserve” This Proposed Stewardship Action (PSA) can be viewed on our website, www.vallescaldera.gov; a link is available on our homepage, From our Home Page, select “Get Involved” from the menu on the left; then select “Stewardship”, scroll down and select “Proposals”, on the left; select "Visitor Use and Access" ‐ the document is titled Proposed Steward Action, dated December 6, 2006.

One of the elements identified in the PSA was to, “Complete a socio-economic and market analyses at various scales to look at current and future trends as well as potential markets and niches.” Towards this end, we have recently acquired a draft Business Plan from ENTRIX Inc. That effort started in March of 2008. While we refer to it as a plan, the purpose of the ENTRIX document is to suggest alternatives under which financial self-sufficiency is possible. We do not consider it as a plan in the sense that any decisions have been made, or any actions have been proposed, on its contents. It is to be used as a reference to continuing the information gathering efforts as described in the PSA. In the outreach and subsequent award of the contract to be fulfilled by ENTRIX Inc., the Trust emphasized the consideration of alternatives that could lead to financially self-sufficient management of the Preserve. As suggested in the State of the Preserve, public use of and access to the Preserve is likely the key to achieving this benchmark established by Congress.

The Trust has put together a planning team, Enterprise Technical Services (ETS), who is using the information collected through the public workshop series held in 2007, the business planning document being completed by ENTRIX Inc., as well as additional analysis and public feedback, to draft a reasonable set of alternatives in support of Phase 2 (NEPA), of public use and access planning as described in the PSA. The team being developed will include engineers and landscape architects who have expertise in designing multi-use facilities on public lands and incorporating innovative techniques in planning. In the upcoming year, this team will be focused on completing phase one and will be calling on our interested public for their participation and feedback.

Phase 2 will represent the planning and decision-making process as defined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This process begins with a Notice of Intent (NOI), published in the Federal Register that identifies the proposed action, the purpose and need for action as well as any alternatives being considered. It is our intent that when the Trust publishes this NOI, our stakeholders will clearly see the values and goals put forward in the public work shop series and their feedback provided to our planning team this year, represented in the alternatives put forward.

We expect to publish the NOI late in 2009. Planning and decision making under NEPA is expected to take from 12-18 months following the publication of the NOI. NEPA mandates a period for public comment following the NOI and another period of review and comment for a draft Environmental Impact Statement. Opportunities to comment through meetings or workshops will also be provided during this process. Of course the public is welcome to comment at anytime by:

• selecting the “feedback” option on our website,

• sending an email to comments@vallescaldera.gov,

• sending surface mail to P.O. Box 359, Jemez Springs, NM 87025 to the attention of “Public Use and Access Planning” or,

• providing verbal comments any of our public meetings of the Board of Trustees, held three or more times throughout the year.

As previously stated, the PSA authorized in December of 2006 can be viewed on our website, www.vallescaldera.gov. In addition, all the posters and materials presented at the 2007 public workshop series are also available. From our home page, select “Get Involved” from the menu on the left; then select “Public Meetings”, “Planning Meetings”, and “Virtual Meetings”; the complete link is: http://www.vallescaldera.gov/get_involved/public/public_plan_vm.aspx .

We recognize that the length of time required for planning is frustrating. The development of programs and facilities for use and access represents an important array of decisions regarding the management of the Preserve. The time and resources required for planning typically reflect the importance and complexity of the decision to be made. We appreciate your patience as well as your participation and are looking forward to your continued participation as we begin this phase of planning.

Sincerely,
/s/ Lucia Turner
Lucia Turner
Acting Executive Director

VALLES CALDERA NATIONAL PRESERVE
“An Experiment in Public Land Management”

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States