The latest news is at the top. Scroll down to read past articles:
So far the Valles Caldera National Preserve is weathering the political storms well. Funding from Congress looks solid for 2017 based on funding committed last year. Funding for restoring fire to the ecosystem is solid for now.
The snow levels at the Preserve have been variable this year but overall soil moisture levels are above average for northern New Mexico. However the year has not been great for skiing at the Preserve given high sublimation rates and highly variable temperatures.
We will keep everyone posted as we watch the political situation relative to the National Park Service closely. We can expect budget cuts from republicans but it is too soon to say how deeply our public land agencies will be cut.
Fire on the Mountain
For the last week, and again this week, smoke will rise from prescribed burning in the southwest corner of the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the Banco Bonito area.
Banco Bonito is an area of gently rolling forest close to the southern base of Redondo Mountain. Logged extensively when the land was in private hands, the Valles Caldera Trust got funding from Congress and the US Department of Agriculture to thin and burn some of this area before the VCNP was transferred to the National Park Service. Once the NPS transfer occurred, the New Mexico congressional deligation insured that this ecological restoration work would continue under the Resilient Landscapes Program of the Department of Interior.
The VCNP Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program is a collaborative program with area Pueblos and other federal agencies. Interior appropriated $883,000 to the Caldera for the first phases of burning and thinning under NPS management. Overall the VCNP staff wants to reintroduce fire to 50,000 acres in the Preserve.
The current 1100 acre Banco Bonito burning project addresses the lowest and driest area of the Preserve close to residential areas in the Sierra Los Pinos and Thompson Ridge area which are extremely vulnerable to fire from surrounding Forest Service land that has been grazed and fire suppressed for decades. The NPS is doing its part to remove thickets of post logging brush and trees and strengthen critical native grass understory. High severity wildlfire will be unlikely in these lands following the fire and thinning restoration.
Last July (2016) the National Park Service allowed the Big Hat wildfire started by a lightning strike to burn 235 acres in the Banco Bonito area adjacent to the area being burned right now.
Land that has had large trees logged tends to become much more flammable over time. Increased sunlight hitting the forest floor encourages tree seedlings which grow into thickets without thinning or fire. Extremely flammable slash piles persist for years. Exotic plants like thistles and weed grasses displace native plants in these disturbed areas. Low intensity fire corrects these problems but must return within 20 years to maintain the benefits.
The current burning is putting out a great deal of smoke because many old stumps burn for days and many logs and heavy beds of pine needles take many hours to consume. Fire bosses time burning around weather patterns that will minimize smoke in nearby high population areas.
Around 30 fire professionals from NPS fire crews from El Malpais, Mesa Verde and Bandelier/Valles Caldera are managing the fire.
Around 50,000 years ago a small crater near Redondo Mountain spewed pumice to create the landscape we now know as Banco Bonito.
Bandelier National Park?
Senator Martin Heinrich is considering elevating Bandelier National Monument to a full National Park if Congress agrees to a bill he may introduce soon. According to his office, Senator Heinrich feels northern New Mexico needs a full national park for economic development .
Though his national park concept for Bandelier is still in development, a key provision of the bill would be to allow a limited elk hunting season in the park with only bow hunting allowed during a limited time frame. Whether the National Park Service or the State of New Mexico would control the archery hunt is not clear.
Senator Heinrich envisions expanding Bandelier as well though which specific areas would be added to the park is not yet clear.
Bandelier’s backcountry has suffered damage from wintering elk herds in snowy years. The Jemez elk herd that largely lives in the Valles Caldera National Preserve winters in Bandelier and LANL lands during years when the high country has deep snow. Hunting could limit that herd which already is hunted on all national forest lands surrounding the Preserve.
Last year Bandelier NM hosted 174,000 visitors. The park’s visitation peaked in 1997 at 409,000 visitors. This year is both the centennial of the National Park Service and the centennial of Bandelier National Monument and visitation may increase this year. Most visitors to the 34,000 acre park visit the bottom of Frijoles Canyon where a paved path passes among early Puebloan ruins and artifacts. The backcountry of the park is lightly used by hikers and backpakers.
For more information on the national park proposal for Bandelier contact Senator Heinrich’s office at https://www.heinrich.senate.gov/contact/write-martin.
High Country News Publishes Feature on Caldera Action
The weekly news magazine High Country News has published an issue focused on national parks. The first feature in the issue focuses on Caldera Action's work to move the Valles Caldera to the National Park Service. See the article here: http://www.hcn.org/issues/48.4/at-valles-caldera-a-new-national-park-unit-takes-shape
Budget Looks Good for 2016 The omnibus budget bill that will pass Congress and be signed by the President December 18, 2015 contains good news for the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Senators Udall and Heinrich announce that the VCNP will get $3.34 million in base funding - equal to the fiscal year 2015 budget. The bill also includes $1.5 million to fund restoration projects at new park units, including Valles Caldera. Overall, the omnibus spending bill provides $2.851 billion for the National Park Service, $237 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level. A small $43 million was allocated to help deal with an $11.5 billion dollar maintenance backlog in the national park system. And Congress allocated $180,000 to begin funding for the Manhattan Project National Historic Park, partly in Los Alamos. This is the first funding the MPHNP has received.
A lively debate about how to fund the National Parks is heating up in Washington. Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advocate for more "partnerships" with corporations to fund parks given the unwillingness of Congress to allocate adequate funds to the system. (The NPS budget is 1/15th of 1% of the federal budget.) Corporate partnerships may involve branding and other publicity for businesses within the parks.
The funding for the Valles Caldera is a good amount. We hope to seek increases for specific needs once the NPS is settled in at the Preserve and has identified construction and restoration needs. The current budget will fund a solid law enforcement and interpretation program and the science program will continue apace. Stay tuned as 2016 evolves.
Wonderful Ceremony Marks Beginning of NPS Management
Around 400 people joined Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at the Valle Grande on October 10 to unveil the National Park Service Arrowhead and mark the management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve by the NPS. The day began with a fog filled caldera giving way to a perfectly clear day. It was a happy time with everyone smiling and long time activists who made the improved management happen sharing memories of battles past.
While none of the active public who made the NPS management happen were asked to speak, we did hear from Senator Jeff Bingaman and Senator Martin Heinrich, the two people in Washington who rescued the VCNP from a mediocre future. Senate Energy and Natural Resources staff David Brooks flew out from Washington for the event and was all smiles. Nobody did more for the Preserve than Mr. Brooks.
Notably Jemez Pueblo Governor Ray Loretto made a very welcoming speech but urged the NPS to respect the sacred sites at the Preserve which the law protects for Pueblo ceremonies. Many of Jemez Pueblo's council members were present including a 97 year old gentlemen. Clearly Jemez Pueblo saw this as an important event and they shared the good feelings of the day.
Many of the speakers mentioned the Land and Water Conservation Fund which the republicans in the House of Representatives allowed to expire recently. Money from this trust fund was used to purchase the VCNP from willing sellers in 2000. Hopefully more moderate voices will replace those who don't understand conservation, public lands or the public interest on the far extremes of politics.
Caldera Action will be posted a YouTube of the whole ceremony in the near future for those who are interested.
New Superintendent Chosen for VCNP under the National Park Service
Caldera Action’s board is very happy that the National Park Service has hired Jorge Silva-Banuelos as the first Superintendent at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Jorge had applied for the job along with others and the NPS Regional Director chose Jorge.
Not only does this reflect Jorge’s strength as a leader at the Valles Caldera, it also reflects the Regional Office’s understanding that the Valles Caldera is in need of a superintendent who understands the Preserve’s past and the special needs the Preserve has as a National Park Preserve. It is somewhat unusual for the NPS to hire for a superintendent post outside of their career ranks.
Caldera Action’s staff and board got to know Jorge when he worked for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee under Senator Jeff Bingaman. Along with staffer David Brooks, Jorge always knew exactly what was going on as the legislation to have the VCNP move to the National Park Service as it worked its way through the maze of politics in Washington.
More recently we’ve know Jorge as the Executive Director at the Valles Caldera Trust. He moved immediately to open access to the public in ways we had pressed for over the last 8 years. We noticed that the staff seemed happier and more motivated with his style of leadership.
Jorge has a solid vision for the VCNP. He strongly supports appropriate public access while he understands the need to protect and restore the ecology of the Preserve that is still recovering from heavy logging and intense grazing when the land was in private hands. He understands the opportunities and constraints that come with National Park Service management. As a native New Mexican he appreciates the many communities surrounding the Preserve and he understand the “national” in National Park Service.
Please join us in welcoming Jorge Silva Banuelos as our first Superintendent at the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
Big Celebration Set for October 10!
The National Park Service has confirmed that a special event to celebrate the Valles Caldera as the 19th National Park Preserve will happen at the Valle Grande Visitor Center area at the VCNP on October 10. The exact time has yet to be confirmed but most likely will be late morning.
There will many good people there to launch the NPS management including Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Senator Martin Heinrich and Senator Tom Udall along with Pueblo governors and representatives of advocacy groups.
The Trust will hold a big celebration for the Valles Caldera National Preserve's 15th birthday next weekend. The public can visit the Preserve free all weekend to immerse in guided hikes, nature immersion experiences, story telling, guided walks, and science presentations.
There will be some really unusual tours and talks by experts at the Caldera. For example, you can take a detail tour of the cabins and buildings in the Headquarters area, tour field houses left by the ancestors of today's Jemez Pueblo, tour archaeology sites in the La Jara area and join in a storytelling session at 1 PM on Saturday at the History Grove and learn about the forest restoration project from scientists. This is a small sampling of a great weekend planned for you.
Click here for the Preserve Days Schedule.
Final Trustee Meeting
The Board of Trustees will have their final meeting in the History Grove at the VCNP at 10 AM on Saturday July 25. This will be an important event for those of you who have been dedicated to the preservation and evolution of the VCNP. Come thank the Trustees and say goodbye as we continue the transition to permanent management by the National Park Service which takes over on October first.
Fence Removal Monday July 20
Come help remove fencing that blocks wildlife and ruins the wild nature of the Valle Grande with university students. Join us at 9:15 at the visitor center. Wear sturdy shoes, thick pants and bring gloves, water, lunch and a good hat. The staff will provide all the tools needed. Help re-wild the Preserve!
New Money for Forest Health at Valles Caldera and Santa Clara
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that the Valles Caldera National Preserve and Santa Clara Pueblo will be receiving US Department of Interior funding to treat forests for resilience in the face of wildfire and climate change. The projects are part of the Interior Department’s Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Program intended to unite federal agencies, tribes, states and other groups to create fire-resilient landscapes.
The Valles Caldera will receive $883,000 to continue the work that has been done under the Department of Agriculture’s CFLRP program. This program has involved extensive thinning of overcrowded ponderosa pine forests that were logged and fire suppressed during the private ownership days before 2000. The Trust has also been doing prescribed burns and research associated with these treatments. Which do not include saw timber logging. Jemez Pueblo has benefitted from small diameter wood products for their Walatowa Industries project.
This is a big relief for the Valles Caldera which is dedicated to restoring the logged and overgrazed forests it inherited from private owners in 2000. Senator Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich were key to getting this funding for the Valles Caldera and for Santa Clara Pueblo which has land adjacent to the VCNP.
Jemez Pueblo Lawsuit Back in the News
A few years ago Jemez Pueblo filed suit against the US Government contending that the VCNP is their tribal land from prehistoric time and that it should be transferred to Jemez Pueblo.
The Valles Caldera has a long and complicated history. The land was clearly used by many native peoples for hundreds of years before it drew the attention of Hispano families in the middle 1800s. Numerous Pueblo and other tribes claim prehistoric ties to the VCNP also though nobody settled in the caldera because of the long cold winters. The Navajos kept nearly everyone out of the Jemez Mountains until the campaign against the Navajo by Kit Carson in 1863.
The US Congress established the Luis Maria Cabeza de Baca Land Grant in 1860 to settle a land ownership dispute centered where Las Vegas, New Mexico is today. Thus the “Baca Location Number 1” became an American land grant, following on a long history of Spanish and Mexican land grants throughout New Mexico and Colorado.
Whether Congress or the New Mexico territorial government checked for tribal claims when it surveyed the land grant is unknown. That Baca family ownership of the land grant was eventually dissolved in 1899 by the courts because of conflicts among its owners and sold to a single private owner who in turn sold it to others. The Dunnigan family sold it to the US Government in 2000 through an act of Congress.
Recently Jemez Pueblo has complained in the federal courts that Congress did not extinguish their “aboriginal interests” in the Valles Caldera when it established the Baca Land Grant in 1860. American Indian tribes were required by federal law to claim ancestral lands by 1954 according to involved federal law. Jemez Pueblo did not claim the Valles Caldera before 1954 but contends they can now.
On June 26, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal District Court in Albuquerque had erred in dismissing Jemez Pueblo’s claim and the case was remanded (sent back) to the District Court for reconsideration. As part of that, Jemez Pueblo is now required to prove it has “aboriginal title” to the VCNP.
Today the Valles Caldera National Preserve belongs to all Americans including every tribal member of all the Pueblos. We can expect more rulings in the federal courts regarding Jemez Pueblo and the VCNP as time passes over the next few years.
It is important to note that the attorneys for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee did extensive research into the history and claims against the VCNP before the land was purchased by the federal government in 2000.
Spring Update 2015
Remarkable things are happening in the Jemez Mountains after decades of damaging exploitation and neglect. Thanks to the hard work of activists and scientists, we are seeing a revolution in land management which could, over time, shift how New Mexicans view and manage land throughout the region.
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is beginning its transition from the experimental Trust to the National Park Service following the passage of SB 285 in Congress last December. Transition from the Trust to the NPS will largely be complete next July and the NPS will manage the Valles Caldera as a Preserve with a budget from the NPS close to what Congress has been appropriating to the Trust for the last 15 years.
Though the Trust model was a mixed bag, the Valles Caldera staff developed an outstanding science program over 15 years that will continue. This research and monitoring program attracted over $3 million in outside research work at the VCNP last year and has greatly increased our understanding of climate change in the southern Rockies.
Some of the research is focused on a Congressionally funded ecological restoration project that encompasses much of the VCNP and a large area of the Santa Fe National Forest in the Jemez River watershed. Known as the “Southwest Jemez Mountains Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project (CFLRP),” the US Forest Service and the Valles Caldera staff are working on treating over 156,000 acres that had been overgrazed, logged, and fire-suppressed since around 1880.
The restoration work involves mechanical thinning of small diameter trees, prescribed fire, obliterating old roads , and restoring streams and riparian areas. The work also involves Jemez Pueblo land and the Pueblo’s forestry crews. Nationally, this project is one of eight, treating 1.5 million acres of ecologically degraded lands in 9 states.
This summer will be an exciting time at the Valles Caldera. A grand reopening party is planned for July and there will be extensive volunteer opportunities removing fences, helping field researchers, helping with watershed restoration projects and other events. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Bill to Transfer VCNP to National Park Service PASSES!
On December 12, 2014, Congress passed S. 285 as part of the Defense Appropriations Act. Once President Obama signs this bill, the VCNP will become part of the National Park System as a preserve.
This is a huge success for New Mexico. This means that the Valles Caldera will be valued and protected as a multi dimensional place. We will interpret its many fascinating qualities and the science program will continue. We will have adequate law enforcement and the public will be welcomed to visit their Preserve.
We owe Senator Martin Heinrich in particular thanks for pushing this bill through at the last opportunity. His political abilities are amazing. Please take the time to thank him and Senator Udall for their efforts on behalf of this place and the people of New Mexico and all of America.
Bill to Transfer VCNP to National Park Service Near Success
Caldera Action has been working since 2007 with our Congressional delegation to end the "experimental" trust management of the Valles Caldera because of myriad problems with the trust model. As of December 12, 2014 our bill sponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall is attached to the Defense Authorization Act and is likely to pass today. While this is not our preferred method of winning in Congress, we are extremely grateful to Senator Heinrich for his tireless efforts to win passage of this bill. He clearly loves the VCNP.
We will provide updates soon.
Caldera Action Calls on Board of Trustees to Curtail TRIP Planning
The Board of Directors of Caldera Action has sent the following letter to the Board of Trustees on August 20:
Board of Trustees:
The Board of Directors and staff of Caldera Action have been reviewing the presentation and documents presented to the public at the “TRIP” meetings July 23-25. In particular, the public needs access to the Viewgraph handouts which are still not available on the Preserve’s web site (these are the ones with the city buses prominently displayed on the cover).
It appears to us that the TRIP Study is yet another commercially-oriented, revenue-driven process untethered to any comprehensive management plan or transportation study. There are a number of the “projects” that we have advocated for in the past and that are consistent with public wishes as expressed in years of public meetings regarding public access and which could proceed without further planning, as discussed by the Board of Trustees a year ago. However, the focus on “themes” and concession oriented developments is incompatible with both the public’s expressed desires and the entire notion of a National “Preserve.” It is not clear the contractor has studied public comments from many previous public meetings and the extensive written comments on file at the VCNP.
Overall, the TRIP materials give the strong impression of a “working ranch” theme park more than a Preserve. We see a heavy emphasis on commercial accommodations and equestrian facilities though we have heard very little from the public over the years for this kind of access. The designation of a “cowboy cabin” and phony “historic village” presumably with false-front buildings and a shootout at 3:00 PM every day is a shallow distraction from the amazing reality of the Valles Caldera . This kind of development, conceived by people with little understanding of the true history of the place, does a great disservice to the value and depth of the actual VCNP experience where natural beauty, scientific understanding, Pueblo and Hispano culture speak for themselves.
Most importantly, the public is basically unaware of this TRIP process. There is almost no mention of TRIP on the VCNP website, despite assurances given at the public meeting. There have been no press releases and the materials provided at the public meeting were difficult to read and obscure. This is not public process but one being carried out with a veneer of public participation. Despite protestations to the effect that is not a plan but a “plan for a plan,” it is in fact a plan, with clear objectives, timelines, and outcomes. Confusion as to its purpose and need has been a hallmark of this endeavor ever since it was announced.
We sincerely hope this project, like the ENTRIX study before it, comes to a quiet, if not dignified, end. The money wasted on this effort is unfortunate and there are indeed some good ideas within. However, the overall thrust of the study and the manner in which is being put forth, does the Preserve no credit.
We insist that if this process proceeds at all, it do so with sincere efforts at public participation. These have been promised, most recently at the public meeting in July, but never realized. Public comment should be allowed for a minimum of 60 days after a full explanation of the project and its implications. This means getting it up on the web site and doing some outreach so the public knows what this is and what it means. The public deserves to be able to see what is in this proposal, digest it, and comment. To move forward without public participation is unwise, dishonest and probably illegal.
Caldera Action has been involved with public access planning for the Preserve since 2000. We find ourselves with the same range of commercial development alternatives that were presented to us and vehemently rejected by the involved public in the early part of the last decade. Its time for this endless merry-go-round of planning by yet another expensive private contractor to stop. You have the information needed and you can open the Preserve to the public with minimal development, using government staff, in the very near future.
Caldera Action Board of Directors
Expanded Hiking Program Folded into Larger Recreation Planning
Efforts to get the VCNP opened to unstructured hiking outside of specifically closed areas continues. After the Board of Trustees voted to open the Preserve to unstructured hiking at the September 26th meeting, the staff received letters of objection from both Jemez and Santa Clara Pueblos who had not been consulted on the matter. Consultations have since taken place and the Pueblos were reassured that areas of specific cultural concern are closed to hikers already under various laws and that cultural artifacts are protected under the Antiquities Act.
The staff also objected to the open hiking proposal and also invited comment from the State Historic Preservation Office which oversees protection of cultural properties in the state. SHPO stated concerns as well. Caldera Action pointed out that the VCNP is already open to hunters, fishers, researchers and livestock grazers.
As a result the VCNP staff has registered the urgent need to come up with an unstructured hiking program. The proposal is being included in an ongoing planning process called TRIP, the Transportation, Recreation and Infrastructure Plan suitability study, which is a planning process looking specifically at what infrastructure is needed to serve the various hiking, biking, equestrian, skiing, hunting and fishing programs. That study will include public comment this summer.
We have been pressing the staff to do their planning and National Environmental Planning Act work in a timely way since the Preserve is running out of time before 2020 or 2018 when Congress could pull the plug on the Trust and the VCNP would become general national forest land without special programs or dedicated staff.
The bill to rescue the Preserve and have it continue under the National Park Service is stuck with about 100 other public land bills in Congress. The 2014 congressional elections will have a great bearing on whether these bills, and our SB 285 move at all.
New Executive Director Expected this Summer
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is in a state of waiting and transition as spring breaks across a dry Valles Caldera.
The Board of Trustees put out a job search for a new Executive Director this spring. We understand from a number of sources that several very strong candidates applied and that there were four finalists. The offer will be made by the Trustees anytime and the new ED could be in place sometime this summer.
National Park Service Director Meets with Caldera Action
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis spoke with Caldera Action Board Member Monique Schoustra and Executive Director Tom Ribe regarding the Valles Caldera National Preserve on March 28 in Salt Lake City.
This was our second meeting with Director Jarvis about the Valles Caldera, the first being in Washington DC in 2012. In both meetings Director Jarvis expressed his keen interest in having the VCNP included in the National Park System (as a Preserve) soon. For a person who has 401 units to oversee while managing the NPS’s budget and relationship to Congress, Director Jarvis shows an amazing depth of knowledge about the Valles Caldera and Bandelier National Monument. He knows the geography of the area, the politics of the Preserve and ongoing events with various interest groups in the Jemez Mountains.
We mentioned the need for the Obama Administration to speak with one voice on the future of the Valles Caldera, given the strong support of New Mexico public and Congressional delegation expressed for NPS management. Director Jarvis is hopeful that new leadership on the White House staff may resolve inter- agency disagreements on many issues, including the Valles Caldera.
We also discussed Caldera Action’s ongoing conversations with Jemez Pueblo Governor Madalena and his Council on the future of the Valles Caldera under various scenarios. Director Jarvis has agreed that he will engage in dialogue with Jemez Pueblo this month to help the Pueblo develop a dynamic role in the VCNP once the Preserve is under National Park Service management.
Our conversation touched on many other topics such as hunting at the VCNP, the Rim Trail and increasing wildfire activity in the Jemez Mountains.
Director Jarvis was in Salt Lake City to address and attend the Wallace Stegner Center’s symposium: National Parks: Past, Present and Future. Monique Schoustra and Tom Ribe attended the conference on behalf of Caldera Action.
New poll shows support of transferring Valles to National Park Service
From the Los Alamos Monitor
A new poll by Research and Polling Inc. of New Mexico shows wide public support for transferring management of Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service, making it the nation’s 19th National Preserve.
The poll, conducted Jan. 2-12, shows that New Mexico voters support NPS management by a wide margin, 64 percent to 13 percent. Sportsmen approve this approach by an even wider margin, 69 percent to 9 percent, the poll shows.
The survey was a statewide random sample of 407 voters with an oversample of 100 sportsmen (for a total sample size of 270 sportsmen). The margin of error was +/- 4.9 percent. The oversample of 100 sportsmen is not included in the statewide random sample results.
Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have spearheaded legislation in Congress (S. 285) that would establish the Valles Caldera National Preserve as a National Park Service Unit. Their bill is also supported by northern New Mexico U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan.
“Broad-based voter support for the National Park Service initiative cuts across demographic, regional and political lines,” said Brian Sanderoff, President of Research and Polling Inc.
“Clearly, the people of New Mexico, including hunters and anglers, value what National Park Service management will mean for this special place,” said Garrett VeneKlasen, Executive Director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, one of the sponsors of the poll. “As a National Preserve, this plan will both protect the Valles Caldera while also ensuring that these lands can be accessed by average New Mexicans who want to hunt, fish, camp, hike, or bike here. It really provides the best of both worlds.”
“This poll shows that sportsmen want a change in the management of Valles Caldera National Preserve,” added Oscar Simpson, chairman of the New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“We can only hope that Congress acts on this long overdue legislation and allows sportsmen to get out and enjoy the Caldera.” Anglers and the businesses that depend on them will also benefit from new management at the preserve, said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico Public Lands Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The Valles Caldera should be better known for its fishing, It’s time that more anglers be allowed to see and experience the beauty of Valles Caldera National Preserve.”
Overall, poll respondents had a more favorable opinion of the National Park Service than other land management and wildlife agencies/organizations. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of voters statewide have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of the National Park Service, and 70 percent have a “favorable” or “very favorable” opinion of the U.S. Forest Service. Very few voters have negative opinion of either the Park Service (4 percent) or the US Forest Service (6 percent).
The poll also asked about an alternative proposal to transfer Valles Caldera to the State Game Commission. Respondents rejected that idea by a margin of 51 percent to 21 percent. Sportsmen rejected that proposal at an even higher rate, with 58 percent opposed and 17 percent supportive. Back in August, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Assistant Director R.J. Kirkpatrick led off with an unsubstantiated attack on the bill’s supporters.
“Today you’ll hear that there are numerous assertions that S.B. 285 is fully supported by sportsmen,” Kirkpatrick said. Not one of the bill’s supporters has made that assertion, although several have pointed out that the legislation has “widespread” support among New Mexico’s sportsmen, Kirkpatrick said last year.
Executive Director Job Open at Valles Caldera
Do you know anyone who would like to be Executive Director at the Valles Caldera. Here's the job annoucement:
The Executive Director is responsible for providing leadership, motivation, and direction to a permanent and seasonal staff required to achieve the goals and purposes of the Trust as set forth in the Act and further refined by the Board of Trustees. The Executive Director reports to the Chairperson of a nine-member Board of Trustees (seven members appointed by the President of the United States, the other two members are the Forest Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest, and the Superintendent of the Bandelier National Monument). The Executive Director oversees a complex experimental management regime tasked with mixing elements of both public and private administration to achieve financial self-sufficiency where consistent with the protection and preservation of natural and cultural resources, providing public access to the Preserve, benefitting local communities and business, and other purposes. This position oversees five administrative and operational divisions including Scientific Services, Planning and Natural Resource Management, Recreation, Facilities and Infrastructure; IT and Communications, and Administrative Services.
New Interim Executive Director Named for Valles Caldera
The Valles Caldera Board of Trustees has named Dr. Tim Haarman as Executive Director as of February 11, 2014. Dr. Haarman was Operations Director for the VCNP and before that Ranch Foreman. He has also worked for the Public Service Company of New Mexico as Senior Scientist, and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has his PhD in biology from the University of New Mexico.
Caldera Action welcomes his appointment. Tim is a serious and fair minded public servant who has show a commitment to the science programs at the VCNP and their application to day to day management decisions. We are also pleased that he comes from outside the federal land management agencies that have dominated the VCNP's staff in the past as this brings a fresh perspective and fairness to the future of the Preserve.
The Board of Trustees is currently looking for a long term Executive Director.
Espanola Chamber of Commerce Endorses National Park Service Management of VCNP
In mid December, the Espanola Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution strongly endorsing National Park Service Management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Chamber cited the economic benefits the NPS would bring to the gateway Espanola Valley and the tradition of doing comprehensive management at NPS Preserves involving the public.
This business group joins the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce which endorsed NPS management in 2011.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation was active in working with the Espanola Chamber which cited the economic study issued by Caldera Action, the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and the New Mexico Wildlife federation in 2011 which showed the strong economic benefits that the NPS would bring to the region. No other agency would draw national and international visitors with spin off benefits for local communities.
To read the Espanola Chamber resolution click here.
Caldera Action Issues Press Release About Unstructured Hiking Fiasco
December 16, 2013
Citizen’s Group Calls on Valles Caldera Board of Trustees to Reinstate Expanded Hiking Program
Caldera Action, a non profit organization focused on the protection of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, is calling on the Valles Caldera National Preserve Board of Trustees to reinstate the expanded hiking program approved at the September 26, 2013 Board of Trustees meeting but suspended at the December 5th meeting.
At the September 26 meeting the Board of Trustees adopted the following and directed the staff to work immediately to open the Preserve to unstructured hiking by December 3, 2013:
“Visitors to the Valles Caldera National Preserve will have a right to unstructured foot traffic to all areas of the preserve to allow for wandering and exploration, and that this be optimally facilitated by the Valles Caldera staff. Furthermore, lawful closures may be managed by the staff with approval of the board chairman and notification to full board. An access fee of no more than $10/day/person may be authorized. This motion is to go into effect on December 3 with initial implementation restricted to the main visitors’ center, and with a press release, description of this type of access on the website and in public media, and appropriate signage in the visitors center being established no later than October 4, 2013. “
The VCNP staff apparently did not “optimally facilitate” the expansion of hiking on the Preserve as ordered and did not announce the program to the public including local Pueblos. Under the experimental management regime at the VCNP, the Board of Trustees supervises the staff.
Without press releases or website posting regarding the expanded hiking program, nobody was accurately informed of the new program and Jemez Pueblo objected in a letter to the VCNP and demanded consultation and a suspension of the program so that their religious ceremonies and ancestral artifacts would be protected from hikers.
VCNP staff argue that more environmental studies must be done at the Preserve before people can hike beyond the few restricted hikes offered at the Preserve.
The expanded hiking program was suspended at the December 5 BOT meeting.
Caldera Action calls on the BOT to reinstate the expanded hiking program as soon as possible given:
- Pueblo ceremonial activities and sites are already protected under the legislation creating the VCNP.
- The Antiquities Act and other laws protect prehistoric artifacts on all federal lands including the VCNP.
- All other federal lands managed by the US Forest Service and National Park Service in the Jemez Mountains are open to unstructured hiking and those lands contain ceremonial sites and extensive prehistoric Pueblo artifacts.
- Hunters, ranchers, and researchers already have open access to the Preserve outside areas restricted because of Pueblo concerns.
- Existing categorical exclusions, existing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents cover expanded hiking so no new studies are needed.
Caldera Action has written a letter to the Board of Trustees and the New Mexico Congressional delegation urging that the expanded hiking and access program be reinstated at once.
For more information call us at 505 982 4464.
Open Hiking Policy Suspended by Board of Trustees
December 9, 2013
Caldera Action is disappointed to learn that the open access hiking proposal passed at the September 26th Valles Caldera Board of Trustees meeting was suspended at the December 5th Board of Trustees meeting (see the New Mexican article below). The public has been actively requesting more, low cost access to the Preserve since 2000.
The Board of Trustees suspended the open hiking program after Jemez Pueblo pointed out that they had not been consulted about the proposal as required by a 2004 agreement between the VCNP and Jemez Pueblo and by the VCNP enabling legislation.
Clearly the VCNP staff could have consulted with the Pueblo about open access hiking many times over the last decade. The VCNP legislation requires that the Trust carry out “consultation with Indian tribes and Pueblos, as are necessary and appropriate to carry out its authorized activities.”
Even so, Caldera Action does not believe that the open hiking access program should be suspended beyond the time it takes to consult with tribal officials. The September 26 motion to open the VCNP to less structured hiking specifically contained a formal procedure for closing any area to hiking if tribal, endangered species, game, other concerns warranted a closure.
Once the tribes are consulted, we suspect that their areas of concern will closely match those identified in Senate Bill 285, the bill to transfer to VCNP to the National Park Service, which was written with intensive tribal consultation. That bill has very clear provisions to protect Pueblo ceremonial uses and has firm tribal consultation requirements for the National Park Service when they assume management of the VCNP. The current events emphasizes the need to pass S 285 as soon as possible.
Aside from the need to consult with the Pueblos, we find the other reasons for suspending the hiking program far less compelling. The Associated Press reports: “He (Board of Trustees Chair Kent Salazar) added that review of endangered species, cultural resources, and habitat protection also needed to be considered before the plan goes into action.”
The VCNP staff has had 13 years to study hiking and other public access issues related to the Preserve. In 2007 the VCNP staff conducted a full Environmental Impact Statement and planning process on Public Access and Use at great expense. Public input into that process reflected strong public preference for unstructured hiking activities throughout the Preserve. Yet somehow all the planning and environmental studies conducted with the Public Access and Use need to be revisited now if people walk around the Preserve.
The Preserve is home to significant prehistoric obsidian mines, lithic scatters, and wildlife traps. Contemporary Pueblo people use sites and shrines there for cultural activities as they do within neighboring Bandelier National Monument.
We are disappointed that the open hiking program has been suspended but we trust that the confusion surrounding its implementation will abate soon and the policy will be fully put in place. It is hard to imagine that hikers could damage the Preserve, especially once appropriate area closures are in place, and once we are all reminded that cultural properties on the VCNP are protected by the Antiquties Act, as they are on all other federal lands in the United States.
The following article comes from the Santa Fe New Mexican:
A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed Jemez Pueblo’s claims to the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The tribe sued in 2012, claiming that the land belongs to tribal members because their ancestors were the primary occupants of the area and still continue to visit it for religious ceremonies, initiations and hunting. They use the hot springs for healing purposes. Ancient trails, home sites, fields, hunt traps and sacred areas have been identified on what is now the preserve, the dormant crater of a volcano.
Jemez Pueblo Gov. Vincent A. Toya said the pueblo is disappointed in the ruling and is considering an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
“Our decision on how to respond to the ruling will be made in the traditional Jemez fashion, and not by any one person,” Toya said in an email to The New Mexican. “Our fight to secure our rights in this sacred land is not over until we succeed, or are no longer able to continue.”
Kent Salazar, the chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust Board of Trustees, said, “We will continue to work close with the Pueblo nonetheless to ensure the cultural history, spiritual significance and the landscape are preserved for the generations to come.”
The federal government purchased the land, known as the Baca Ranch, in 2000 from the Dunigan family of Abilene, Texas, for $101 million. The law creating the preserve calls for it to be managed by trustees and to become financially self-sufficient by 2015. Earlier this year, New Mexico’s senators reintroduced a bill to transfer management to the National Park Service. Some users say that would spell disaster for hunting and fishing there.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Brack, in his ruling Tuesday, said the pueblo failed to bring a timely claim under the 1946 Indian Claims Commission Act and “lost its opportunity to litigate its dispute with the United States.”
Jemez Pueblo, along with the Zia and Santa Ana pueblos, filed a land claim in 1951 seeking compensation for the transfer of about 520,000 acres to the federal government. In 1974, the tribes agreed to settle the case for $749,084. They did not make a claim to the Valles Caldera at that time.
Justice Department lawyers earlier this year asked the judge to dismiss this case because of the earlier settlement. They argued the pueblo couldn’t bring up the same issue again.
Contact Uriel Garcia at 986- or email@example.com.
VCNP Board of Trustees Opens Preserve to Random Hiking
September 27, 2013
Over the objections of Valles Caldera National Preserve staff, the VCNP Board of Trustees voted Thursday to open the Preserve to unrestricted hiking starting December 6, 2013. Led by Trustee Jason Lott from the National Park Service, the Board voted unanimously to allow people to hike wherever they want from established parking areas for a daily fee of $10 per person over 16 years of age after hunting seasons end.
The Trustees acknowledged that some areas may need to be closed to random hiking and directed the staff to develop a map of such places to be approved by the Board. Places like Pueblo sacred sites, elk calving areas may be closed for protection but only with Board approval.
This is a big change and one Caldera Action and many others have been pushing for for years. Currently there are three short free hikes, and a set of van accessible hikes in the backcountry available to the public but most of the Preserve has been closed with a threat of a $100 fine for trespass. Hunters and cattle ranchers have been able to move freely around the Preserve when engaged with their sanctioned pursuits.
Hikers should check in at that Staging Area and pay their fee.
Board Lifts Fees on Kids Visiting Preserve
The Board of Trustees also voted to make access to the VCNP free for people under 16 years of age who are with an adult starting immediately. This action was taken to help get more kids involved with the natural word of the VCNP and help build a future generation interested in protecting the Preserve.
The BoT also cut fishing fees to a maximum of $15 per person per day, in an effort to serve lower income people.
Jemez Mountain Salamander Listed as Endangered
The US Fish and Wildlife Service added the Jemez Mountain Salamander to the Endangered Species List on Tuesday. The salamander lives in upper elevation forests in the Jemez Mountains including the Valles Caldera, Bandelier National Monument, and large areas of the Santa Fe National Forest.
The salamander has been in decline for the last two decades as its habitat in the shaded mixed conifer forests of the Jemez have been impacted by high intensity wildfire, cattle grazing, off road vehicles and logging.
The listing should allow for designation of critical habitat with restrictions on activities that could harm the salamanders.
President Obama Reappoints Ken Smith and Melissa Savage to VCNP Board of Trustees
SANTA FE, N.M. -- President Obama on Friday reappointed a geographer and a forester to a controversial board that oversees the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico -- but the White House has yet to fill two other long-vacant positions.
The appointees are Melissa Savage, director of the Four Corners Institute, a nonprofit organization providing scientific advice to communities interested in restoration, and Kenneth Smith, who teaches forestry and geology at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee.
Savage, a specialist in fire ecology, is also an adjunct professor of geography at the University of New Mexico. Smith previously served as director of New Mexico's Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute at Highlands University in Las Vegas, N.M.
The nine-member Valles Caldera Trust is made up of seven presidential appointees and the two supervisors of the neighboring Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument. The seven appointed positions each represent a particular sector, such as livestock management, cultural and natural resources or state and local government.
Both Savage and Smith were first appointed to serve on the board of the Valles Caldera Trust in 2010, as representatives of cultural and natural resources and sustainable forest management, respectively. But their terms expired in January.
Caldera Action is pleased to have these board members back.
New Mexico State Game Commission Votes Against National Park Service Management of VCNP
The New Mexico State Game Commission, a group of political appointees that oversee the New Mexico Fish and Game Department, voted August 22 to oppose NPS management of the Valles Caldera. The stated reason was that the NPS could not manage hunting and may not allow hunting despite explicit mandate in S 285 requiring hunting. The Commission was appointed by Republican Governor Suzanna Martinez.
The Commission also released a proposal to manage the VCNP themselves (transfer to the state would require an act of Congress). They say they would greatly increase cattle grazing, open the Preserve to large scale logging, restrict public visitation, increase hunting and trapping, open the Preserve to off highway vehicles and snowmobiles, and restrict science activities to New Mexico based institutions while charging high fees for scientists. To read their proposal visit our "Links and Docs" page.
The good news from the Grants hearing was that so many fine people traveled a great distance to testify in favor of NPS management. Caldera Action, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, National Parks Conservation Association, New Mexico Outfitters and Guides, Great Southwest Adventures, Sierra Club and others were represented in testimony. The Commission ignored all of the conservationist and business testimony.
Congressional Budget Office Issues Study, NPS Management of VCNP Would Not Raise Costs to Taxpayers
The Congressional Budget Office has issued a new report on the cost of National Park Service management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The report concludes that the NPS would spend about a million more per year than the Trust is spending and about $22 million between 2014 and 2018 to build facilities and for maintenance.
To read the full report click here.
Excellent News Articles Detail State Game Board Process on Anti National Park Service Vote
An excellent group of three short newspaper articles by Arin McKenna of the Los Alamos Monitor detail the process by which the State Game Board voted against National Park Service management of the Valles Caldera in early July. It appears that none of the board members took the time to inform themselves on current VCNP management or on the specifics of Senate Bill 285 which mandates that hunting on the Preserve be managed as it is at Great Sanddunes National Preserve in Colorado (where hunters and the state game managers report no complaints).
To read the articles on the State Game Board click here.
Please take the time to write to the head of the State Game Board Scott Bidegane and urge him to look closely at the provisions of SB 285 and reverse their opposition when they meet again in Grants on August 22. Send him an e mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
State Game Board on Defensive for Hasty Anti-Caldera Vote
(The following article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal July 9)
The New Mexico Game Commission will reconsider a vote opposing federal legislation to transfer Valles Caldera management to the National Park Service after being accused of voting illegally on the issue in May.
The alleged Open Meetings Act violation was raised by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation in a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office following the May 23 commission meeting in Roswell.
The sportsmen’s group said it didn’t have opportunity to voice support for the transfer of management proposed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., because the issue was not included on the agenda as required by the Open Meetings Act.
“We would have been prepared with more information, and we would have gotten sportsmen there who support this legislation,” said Wildlife Federation spokesman Joel Gay. “This was a really good example of why the state requires 72 hours’ notice for votes like this … .”
The commission voted unanimously to send a resolution opposing the management change, citing for purposes of the vote an “emergency” exemption to the Open Meetings Act. The commission said Udall’s office had requested a response within 10 days of the meeting, according to the complaint.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government last week requested the Game Commission to provide further explanation for the emergency vote, but received no response, FOG acting director Janice Honeycutt said.
Honeycutt noted in a letter to the Game Commission that the state’s open meetings law says, “emergency refers to unforeseen circumstances” resulting in damage to “persons or property or substantial financial loss to the public body.”
“The explanation given for the ‘emergency’ vote does not seem to be consistent with ‘emergency’ as defined in the Open Meetings Act,” Honeycutt said.
Udall’s office told the Journal last week that it did not ask for comment from the commission on the Valles Caldera management legislation, introduced in February.
“We did not require formal comment to consider the commission’s input, but we were happy to receive it,” said Udall spokeswoman Jennifer Talhelm.
Game Commission chairman Scott Bidegain said he “acted under a good faith belief” that the vote constituted an emergency under the Open Meetings Act, but said the commission will reconsider its vote at its Aug. 22 meeting in Grants.
“In order to quell such claims and to ensure all persons or parties have a full opportunity to be heard on the matter, I have directed the Department of Game and Fish to place the contested item back on the agenda,” Bidegain told the AG’s office last month.
The Attorney General’s spokesman Phil Sisneros said the Open Meetings Act complaint could be resolved if the commission reconsiders its vote in August.
“If they were to completely do it over with proper notice, in other words following all the steps they need to, that’s what we call a cure,” Sisneros said. “That’s what we would advise them to do … That would pretty much put an end to it.”
Bill to Stabilize and Improve VCNP Management Moves Out of Senate Committee
On June 18, our bill to move the Valles Caldera National Preserve from the VCNP Trust, to the National Park Service passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The bill passed in a mark-up session on a voice vote.
This is a huge step for the Valles Caldera. Now the bill is likely to be bundled with any number of other public land related bills and presented to the full Senate sometime this summer or fall. The trick is always getting time on the Senate floor and overcoming any filibuster that could require a super-majority to pass.
The mark-up process over the last few days was a time of intense negotiation between various interests. Caldera Action board and staff were on the phone repeatedly with various people in Washington to find out about changes to the bill and pressure from other Senators and interest groups to change the bill. We are deeply grateful for key members of the Committee staff for protecting the most important measures in the bill. We especially thank the National Parks Conservation Association for their vital role in advancing S. 285.
Some changes were made to S 285 in terms of language relating to livestock grazing and hunting. While the grazing language was not what we wanted, we feel strongly that the National Park Service has the authority to protect the Preserve and manage grazing based on science as the Trust has been doing successfully.
We will give everyone more details soon but we send our thanks to all of you for your support and to Senator Heinrich and Udall for their help in moving the Preserve one step closer to stable, quality management.
Caldera Action Launches National Petition to Safeguard Valles Caldera
We have launched a national petition to gather a thousand or more signatures asking Congress and the President to pass S-285
to transfer the VCNP to the National Park Service. Please sign the petition and pass it on to others. Click Here to sign.
Note that the petition mentions 2015 as the end point for the Trust under current legislation. That date should read 2020.
Caldera Action Board Meets with Congresswoman Michele Lujan Grisham
Most of Caldera Action's Board of Directors met with Congresswoman Michele Lujan Grisham who represents the First Congressional district (Albuquerque and surrounding area) on May 3rd in Albuquerque. She was enthusiastic about our efforts to safeguard the Valles Caldera National Preserve with sustainable management under the National Park Service and said she would do all she could to help our bill succeed.
Congresswoman Lujan Grisham is important to the Valles Caldera because a large number of people who visit the Caldera regularly live in her district.
We discussed the urgency of our effort to transfer the VCNP to the National Park Service and she shared our sense of urgency. If S 285 doesn't pass before 2018, the VCNP would lose all protections, lose its staff, and have the gates thrown open for general multiple use management under the US Forest Service. Our work is urgent.
Caldera Action members who live in Congresswoman Lujan Grisham' district, please write her and thank her for her support. Use this link: https://lujangrisham.house.gov/contact/email-me
New State of the Preserve Report Available Now
The Valles Caldera Trust 2012 State of the Preserve Report details the journey of
an overused, exhausted landscape to its improved condition and provides a peek at
the road ahead. The report is required by the National Environmental Policy Act
(NEPA) procedures unique to the trust, and provides baseline data which aids the
strategic management of the preserve.
However, the report also points out that some of the resources Congress believed
would contribute to financial self-sufficiency were either overestimated or emerged
as liabilities for the "Experiment in Public Land Management".
"The land was over grazed, heavily logged and the streams were severely compromised
when we took over in 2002," notes Valles Caldera Trust Executive Director, Dennis
Trujillo. "The preserve was incapable of supporting the livestock numbers and timber
production it did under private ownership. We had to adapt, and adapt quickly."
The 2012 report recounts how the trust employed science-based adaptive management
from 2002-2012 to restore the landscape, establish land use policies and expand
opportunities for public access and revenue generation. Adaptive management allows
the trust to institute a new program, monitor the implemented changes, and adjust
the program, based on the assessment data.
This scientific process was applied to livestock grazing which historically hosted
up to 9000 head of cattle grazing on an open range and impacted stream riparian
areas. The trust dramatically reduced stocking levels by 95 percent and moved livestock
into fenced, upland pastures away from streams, which helped restore stressed riparian
The livestock program is now host to several New Mexico State University extension
studies, from which local cattle growers benefit and students from across the nation
participate. Information is continually collected on forage, soil moisture, climate
and other sources to support a sustainable program that is adjusted annually. In
addition, the livestock program recovers all operational costs, and actually returns
a modest profit to the trust.
"Perhaps the most impressive detail in this report is the progress we've made toward
reaching the goals set out in the Valles Caldera Preservation Act," said Trujillo.
"We have either met, exceeded or are making great strides toward meeting all goals
stipulated in the enabling legislation, including financial self-sufficiency."
The report provides detailed analysis of cost recovery which now is almost 29 percent
of annual appropriations, but covers almost 100 percent of public programs including
general recreation, fishing and hunting, and livestock grazing.
The complete 2012 State of the Preserve Report is posted on the Valles Caldera website
at http://goo.gl/mdZra [http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001Bs5fvnMVFj4PUtwE2lB-33fUjBO8X2PNW7sSOo4lnGUGyyhZFbIK_9CHzt03aVde3HI0ZbEkhttiN2M6kKVYzsIj-WV4N4bdsb4AH3d4Z9Q=].
Solar/Electric Shuttles Coming to VCNP
Valles Caldera Trust Awarded $545,000
For Solar Powered Shuttle System
(Jemez Springs, NM) – The Valles Caldera Trust has been awarded a $545,000 federal grant that will allow visitors to tour the Valles Caldera National Preserve in the quiet comfort of a solar powered all-electric shuttle bus. The grant is one of 29 awarded nationally by the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Authority.
The grant will fund the purchase of an all-electric 26-passenger ADA-compliant shuttle bus to replace two gasoline-powered 12-passenger vans currently in use. Construction of a solar photovoltaic panel array to power the vehicle, establishment of charging stations and a garage to house the bus are also included in the funding.
“The grant allows us to test the durability and suitability of all-electric vehicles on our roads and terrain,” says Dennis Trujillo, Executive Director of the Valles Caldera Trust.
“We hope the experiment will lead to conversion of the entire fleet to all-electric vehicles, which will reduce the environmental impact to the preserve, enhance the visitor experience, and reduce costs.”
The Trust estimates a $60,000 annual savings in fleet operation costs during the first five years of the program in addition to a decrease road maintenance expenses. Once suitable sites are selected, the Trust will develop a general plan for the construction of the solar array and garage. The goal is to have the bus operational for the spring season of 2014.
“Once our shuttle bus system is established, we can eventually connect it to a regional public transportation network,” added Trujillo. “We could link Bandelier National Monument, Santa Fe National Forest, and the communities of Los Alamos/White Rock with the Valles Caldera National Preserve.”
US Government Asks Court to Dismiss Pueblo VCNP Suit
By Jackie Jadrnak / Journal North Reporter on Tue, Feb 19, 2013
SANTA FE — Any aboriginal land claims by Jemez Pueblo were settled long ago and can’t be raised again, according to the federal government, which is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the pueblo last summer to gain possession of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed for dismissal last week in U.S. District Court, a motion that the pueblo will “vigorously” oppose, according to Thomas Luebben, its attorney in this case.
According to the U.S. government’s filing, any such land claims had to be filed between Aug. 13, 1946, and Aug. 13, 1951, with the Indian Claims Commission, which had exclusive jurisdiction to rule on such claims.
Barely a month before the end of that time period, Jemez Pueblo, together with Zia and Santa Ana pueblos, filed a claim seeking compensation for some 520,000 acres of land. The Indian Claims Commission ruled the three pueblos had not proven aboriginal use and occupancy, but the Court of Claims on appeal found in favor of the pueblos on 298,634 acres of that land.
On Jan. 10, 1974, the pueblos agreed to a final judgment of $749,084 for that land, according to the federal filing. “Once paid, the award of the Commission barred the tribe from litigating claims against the United States,” the Department of Justice argues.
Its motion also points out that in 1860, the U.S. government gave some 99,289 acres, most of which now constitute the Valles Caldera Preserve, to the Baca family heirs to settle a land grant claim.
That land was not part of the tract contested before the ICC, “and Plaintiff has offered no explanation why they were unable to pursue this claim in the exclusive forum of the ICC,” the government filing states.
In a telephone interview, Luebben said that the Indian Claims Commission only had jurisdiction to award damages for Indian lands that were taken, and not to adjudicate title to disputed land. “The fact that the United States authorized trespassers in this area did not extinguish the (pueblo’s aboriginal) title,” he contended.
The federal filing notes that homesteads were established on that land, grazing was established in a 1934 act of Congress, and the Jemez Forest Preserve was created. By not challenging those uses of that land, the pueblo essentially lost its chance to fight for its title to the land, the government maintains.
Copyright Albuquerque Journal
Bill to Reform VCNP Management Introduced in US Senate
N.M. senators reintroduce bill to transfer Valles Caldera to Park Service
April Reese, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
New Mexico's two Democratic senators have reintroduced a bill that would transfer ownership of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service.
Under the "Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act," the preserve, which sits inside a collapsed volcanic crater within the Jemez Mountains, hunting and restricted grazing would still be allowed on the lands, and traditional cultural and religious sites would be protected. The bill prohibits motorized access above 9,600 feet on the domes within the caldera and calls for construction of a hiking trail along the rim.
"Millions of years in the making, the Valles Caldera is a natural wonder, rich in geology, ecology and culture," said Sen. Tom Udall, who introduced the bill with Sen. Martin Heinrich. "Incorporating this landscape into the National Park Service will preserve its resources and allow for public enjoyment by future generations."
The bill, first introduced by then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and then-Rep. Udall in 2010, responds to concerns that the 89,000-acre preserve cannot meet its congressional mandate to become financially self-sufficient and that its resources would be better protected under Park Service management (Land Letter, June 3, 2010).
The area, formerly a private ranch, is governed by a nine-member board, known as the Valles Caldera Trust, composed of seven members of the community who are appointed by the president as well as the supervisors of the neighboring Bandelier National Monument and Santa Fe National Forest.
Technically, the caldera lies within the boundaries of Santa Fe National Forest, but Tom Ribe, executive director of Caldera Action, an advocacy group that has been pushing for the transfer for several years, said having the Park Service manage the lands makes more sense.
"The Valles Caldera is a national-park-quality place, and it could be a huge economic resource for northern New Mexico if it were in the Park Service's hands," he said, adding that national park lands typically receive more visitors.
The Park Service already manages nearby Bandelier National Monument, so it could easily administer both from the same headquarters, he said.
The preserve, created under a 2000 bill introduced by former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), was intended as a kind of public lands management experiment aimed at decreasing reliance on federal funding.
But 13 years later, critics say the experiment has failed. Fee-based activities on the preserve, including mountain biking and cross-country skiing, hunting and grazing, generate about 20 percent of the preserve's annual budget. New Mexico's congressional leaders have to request the rest of the funding for the preserve each year -- typically between $3 million and $5 million.
The preserve's enabling bill expires in 2020. If no legislation is passed by then to extend the current management regime, it will become part of the Forest Service.
In the last Congress, the "Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act" was rolled into a public lands omnibus bill, which did not come up for a vote before the end of the session.
Reese writes from Santa Fe, N.M.
Albuquerque Journal Urges NPS Management at VCNP
Editorial: Let Park Service take reins of Valles Caldera
By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board on Sat, Feb 16, 2013
Just a few hours from the Albuquerque metro area and Santa Fe lies one of the world’s largest volcanic calderas and a nature preserve of unparalleled beauty.
The Valles Caldera National Preserve was created when the U.S. government purchased the former Baca Ranch for $100 million in 2000. Its sweeping valleys, streams and mountain peaks make it a paradise for horseback riding, hiking, fishing and hunting with bow, rifle or camera.
The preserve is managed by a special presidential-appointed trust charged with operating it as a working ranch, protecting its natural and cultural resources, providing recreational opportunities and becoming financially self-sustaining by 2015.
New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have reintroduced a bill to bring its management under the National Park Service. Udall and former Sen. Jeff Bingaman championed the cause last year, but that bill did not make it through Congress. The new bill cites inconsistent funding, a need for infrastructure improvements and concerns the 2015 goal would not be met.
The senators and others want the Park Service to make the preserve more accessible for recreation. As a publicly owned treasure, its owners — U.S. citizens — should get to enjoy it responsibly. There should be clear boundaries for protecting its unique resources and sacred sites.
The Valles Caldera meets criteria for inclusion in the national park system, and the National Park Service is the right agency to manage it. Congress should not allow this sensible solution to languish in a bureaucratic wilderness.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.