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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Part I: Valles Caldera National Preserve - Do Not Overdevelop This National Natural Landmark

Valle Grande of Valles Caldera National Preserve from Pajarito Mountain Ski Area

The Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) is a National Natural Landmark (NNL) designated in 1975 when it was then called the Baca Location No. 1. The NNL program is administered by the National Park Service (NPS).

Quoted information about the program from National Natural Landmarks Program brochure :

The National Natural Landmarks (NNL) Program was established to encourage and support the voluntary conservation of sites that illustrate the nation’s geological and biological history, and to strengthen the public’s appreciation of America’s natural heritage. The program offers participants the opportunity to share information, solve problems cooperatively, and conserve important natural areas. Since 1962, the NNL Program has involved private, municipal, state, federal, and other landowners working together to conserve natural resources. Land acquisition by the federal government is not a goal of this program; NNLs are owned by a variety of land stewards, and participation in the program is voluntary.

National Natural Landmarks are selected for their outstanding condition, illustrative value, rarity, diversity, or value to science and education. NNLs include public land and private lands with a wide variety of uses.

Ongoing Partnerships are Key to Conservation Success:
The primary goals of the National Natural Landmarks (NNL) Program are to recognize landmark resources and support their conservation. To meet these goals, the NNL Program staff assists with grant applications, publishes an annual report on the status of landmarks, and may identify specialists to advise landmark owners on how to care for their sites. While providing funding for NNLs is not the norm, the program staff has been very successful in helping NNL owners obtain grants to fund conservation work and outreach projects. Recently funded and completed projects include interpretive walkways and exhibits, mapping of significant resources, videos, books, and eradication of non-native plant species. These projects help to conserve landmark resources as well as educate people about our country’s diverse natural history.

Quoted information from Pacific West Region, National Natural Landmarks Program brochure:

Program Management:
The National Natural Landmarks Program does not place any land use restrictions on property as a direct result of federal designation. The NNL Program simply recognizes and encourages the voluntary, long-term commitment of public and private owners to protect an area’s outstanding values. In fact, designated sites do not even have to be open to the public. Conversely, national natural landmarks can be commercial ventures, if the integrity of the natural feature is maintained.

Concerning potential benefits to landowners, the National Park Service can provide technical assistance by advising owners on conservation practices, if so requested. In addition owners, who voluntarily agree to protect their landmark property, are eligible to receive a certificate and wooden plaque for appropriate indoor presentation or a bronze plaque for outdoor display at the site. In the case of federal ownership, agencies should consider the unique properties of natural landmarks in assessing the effects of their actions on the environment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Depending on land ownership, national natural landmark designation can in fact enhance potential funding opportunities in some instances.

This quote is from the National Registry of Natural Landmarks June 2009 and briefly explains why the Valles Caldera was chosen as a NNL:

The Valles Caldera is a large circular depression, 12 to 15 miles in diameter, with scalloped walls rising from a few hundred to more than 2,000 feet above the present floor. Located primarily within the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the site is one of the largest calderas in the world and is an excellent example of a caldera advanced in history but still retaining the essential structures. Designated: 1975. Ownership:

The Valles Caldera is a relatively young, 1.2 million years old, well-preserved volcanic caldera which holds great geologic significance. It's diverse because in addition to the caldera, there is a resurgent dome,
ring fracture domes and geothermal activity (PDF download from Geo-Heat Center Bulletin, December 2002).

Federal agencies contemplating any development that will affect a NNL must be careful that the significant features of the property are not degraded. In the case of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, the significant features would be the geology of the Valles Caldera, including its resurgent dome, its ring fracture domes and geothermal features.

The National Natural Landmark designation carries no restrictions on what development can occur but the NNL status may be lost if the significant attributes of an NNL site are degraded. An NNL designation often makes a property more attractive to visitors which could translate into increased visitation at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The federal government is available to help advise NNL property owners on how best to protect and preserve the property. Owners of NNLs can obtain Challenge Cost Share Funding to help protect and interpret its significant attributes - in this case, the uniquely intact geology of the Valles Caldera.

With the Valles Caldera Trust now actively engaging the public in a pre-scoping dialogue about different conceptual alternatives of access, activities, capacity, development, financing and values surrounding proposed development of the VCNP, maybe the question to be asked is if the Valles Caldera National Preserve was under different management, such as the NPS or the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and financial self-sufficiency was not a requirement, would the new land managers approach development and public access and use of the land differently? What parts of these conceptual development alternatives would land managers who were not expected to make a buck discard and which would they keep? What would they consider more important - protecting and preserving the Valles Caldera, while allowing reasonable public access and use, or becoming financially self-sufficient?

In the case of the Valles Caldera, this spectacular geologic treasure of the Jemez Mountains, the primary consideration should not be the almighty dollar but how best to protect and preserve the Valles Caldera, which bewitches all who see it, and to both educate the public about the Valles Caldera and study it to
benefit future mankind (PDF download from official VCNP website regarding climate change study in Valles Caldera).

The focus of any development should befit the Valles Caldera's designation as a National Natural Landmark and should heavily emphasize science and education. Public Access and Use Planning (PAUP) (PDF download from official VCNP website of all conceptual alternatives for development) on the Preserve should occur only insofar as the natural landscape of the Valles Caldera is not degraded. Development that occurs should further appreciation, understanding and scientific study of the geological wonders and natural landscape that comprise the Valles Caldera.

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Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States