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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valles Caldera National Preserve Needs More Action, Less Excuses!

On Sunday, February 1, 2009, a Los Alamos Monitor article, "Caldera reboots under new management", (written by Roger Snodgrass), gave highlights from a group interview with Stephen Henry, Valles Caldera Trust (VCT) board member; Gary Bratcher, the Trust's new executive director; Dennis Trujillo, the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) Manager and Bob Parmenter, VCNP Scientist.

It's interesting when Bratcher is asked to comment about the perception of the public that the VCNP is behind schedule in providing more public access to the Preserve and in becoming financially self-sustaining.

Bratcher, the fourth official director of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico, attempts to explain away what he calls "misinformation" about how long the trust has to meet its goal of financial self-sufficiency. He cites a section of the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-248) (Preservation Act), the enabling legislation (PDF download) that created the Preserve. This section, Section 110, Termination of Trust, mandates that in 2014 if the Trust has

...met the goals and objectives of the comprehensive management program under section 108(d), but has not become financially self-sustaining...

the Trust can ask Congress to continue further appropriations for another four years and delay the final decision on whether or not to terminate the Trust until 2018.

This is perfectly true but if you bother to read Section 108(d) Management Program, of the Preservation Act, it says that two years after the Trust assumed management of the Preserve, a comprehensive management program which included "public use and access for recreation" was to have been completed. The Trust took over from the forest service in August 2002. However, it was not until 2007 that public workshops (PDF download) were held to gather feedback to begin the process of comprehensive planning for "public use and access for recreation".

After this hopeful beginning, that process was largely forgotten by the Trust in 2008. It did resurface briefly at a Trust meeting in December 2008. Supposedly, the plan is for more public workshops to be held in 2009 and to have the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process for public use and access completed by late 2010 or mid 2011. That's a long time to wait when it was supposed to have been completed in 2004. This is now seven years after the Trust first assumed management of the Preserve and it is now only 5 years away from the 2014 deadline that Bratcher refers to.

What Bratcher terms "misinformation" is not that at all. The perception of people that time is running out for the Trust is based on the reality of the situation that at this late in the game, there is still no real plan in place to allow more fair and open access for all people to explore and enjoy the Preserve. The public sees it as an exclusive "pay to play" enclave.

Bratcher and the Trust need to realize that an important deadline has already passed - to win the support and goodwill of all of us who once were optimistic that one day we'd be allowed to enjoy the Valles Caldera National Preserve! Now, most of us are talking about how maybe our grandkids will get to enjoy it! We feel that the only way we will ever get onto the Preserve is if the Trust finally goes away. Telling us we are misinformed won't get our support.

Also in the article, Bob Parmenter points out that originally when Congress mandated financial self-sufficiency, it was believed that grazing, timbering and hunting could be used to attain this. Parmenter eliminates each one from consideration - the Preserve is already overgrazed from all the cattle run on it when it was privately owned, the timber is over-cut from intensive logging in years past and the hunting is tightly controlled by the New Mexico Game and Fish Department. (An aside: In the early days, the Trust had hoped to make loads of money auctioning off elk licenses to the highest bidders but ordinary hunters protested and a lottery system was put in place to provide fairer access to local hunters. This year, HB 11 has been introduced in the House of Representatives of the New Mexico Legislature to bring back a modified system to auction off a limited number of deluxe hunting packages.)

Waiting until after they have given up hopes for lucrative economic returns from grazing, timbering and hunting before they seriously consider allowing larger numbers of us unwashed masses onto the Preserve shows how highly they value recreation. Do you think perhaps it's our wallets they value?

Now, as the Preserve finally acknowledges that there's gold in our pockets, they are powerless to do much about it because they know that their facilities and infrastructure are not adequate to receive visitors on a larger scale than that of their present interim recreation program. Their roads and accommodations are sub-par and they don't even have a visitor center let alone adequate visitor parking. In their Annual Report to Congress 2008, they spell out that they will need $15 to $50 million dollars over the next ten years to upgrade their aging, inadequate buildings and infrastructure in order to make money off recreation.

In closing, I almost discounted one telling remark by Bratcher which belies his agribusiness background. He offers the excuse that the Preserve can only operate five or six months out of the year and implies that it's unfair to hold it to the same standards as other places that have "twelve months of Augusts".

Mr. Bratcher, the Preserve can produce productive income year around if you allow more access to the people. In the winter, it could be a snow lover's paradise on more than just Saturdays and Sundays, January to March. Also, don't shut the place down to hikers at the end of September. Leaf peepers and elk watchers would love to be allowed on the Preserve in October. As it is now, only hunters may use the Preserve in those months. Preserve scientist Bob Parmenter has dismissed hunting as a money-maker so why should one group of recreationists have exclusive use of the whole Preserve for two months? Furthermore, why in the world do you lock your gate and completely shut down the month of December? Hikers would love to pay to use the Preserve until it becomes snowbound and then a myriad of winter activities like snow camping and snow shelter building, in addition to cross country skiing and snowshoeing, could take place. It's purely an agribusiness oriented point of view to assume the Preserve can only make money during the growing season. When it comes to recreation, it's a year-around proposition. It works for Bandelier National Monument and Santa Fe National Forest so why wouldn't it work for the Valles Caldera National Preserve?

The Preserve is a stunning landscape and it's sad that this geologic wonderland, a young caldera, the circular shape of which is still clearly visible, needs to become a mere working drone, a means to an end, a cash cow and will not be allowed to exist just for visitors to enjoy, scientists to study and students to learn!

This page on the VCNP website has Reference Documents and Annual Reports which can be downloaded in PDF format. You'll find the annual reports to Congress here, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act, the Trust's NEPA procedures and documents created by the Trust to guide its actions.

page has Stewardship Action Proposals. The Stewardship Actions are proposed by the Trust to manage the VCNP. The Trust seeks public comment on the proposals.

This is the home page of the VCNP website. Check here for news of upcoming public meetings. Click on Mailing Lists in the upper left hand corner to have the VCNP put your name on an email list to receive news about the VCNP, including notices of public meetings and stewardship actions.

All PDF downloads are from the VCNP website.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Neat, New Feature on VCNP Website!

The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) now has a new feature on the home page of their website where you can subscribe to receive email updates on topics of your choice.

On the VCNP home page, look for the clickable Mailing Lists link in the upper left hand corner.

When you click on it, you are taken to a page that prompts you to enter your email address. Once you click Submit, you can create your profile and indicate which topics you'd like to receive updates on.

Here are the topics:

· News & Newsletters
· Volunteer Opportunities
· Recreation Events
· Special Events
· Fishing
· Hunting
· Contracting with Valles Caldera Trust
· Project Planning & Decisions
· Cultural Resources

I welcome this new addition to the VCNP website as it will help more people to stay informed about news of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The more informed people are, the more they will care about what happens to it.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States