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New bill would shift control of Valles

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WASHINGTON — New Mexico’s U.S. senators are once again trying to persuade Congress to transfer management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, on Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would make the change, citing inconsistent funding, a need for infrastructure improvements and concerns that the preserve would not achieve financial self-sustainability by 2015, as directed by the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000. Udall and then-Sen. Jeff Bingaman first introduced the legislation in 2010, but it didn’t clear Congress after winning approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill aims to put the pristine 89,000-acre preserve under closer government management. Purchased by the federal government for $100 million in 2000, the Valles Caldera has been managed as a presidential-appointed trust with a working ranch for the past decade. Public access to the land is limited, and some would like to see the National Park Service make it more readily available for hiking, fishing, hunting and other recreational uses.

“Incorporating this landscape into the National Park Service will preserve its resources and allow for public enjoyment by future generations,” Udall said in a statement. “Additionally, I want to applaud the years of work that the board of trustees and preserve employees have invested in caring for this unmatched natural resource.”

Heinrich said he has enjoyed hunting and fishing in the Caldera and wants to make it more accessible to the public.

“The Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act would help protect the abundant natural resources of the preserve while increasing recreational access for hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing for all New Mexicans,” Heinrich said in a statement “Making the Valles Caldera more accessible would improve the quality of life for all who visit, for all who benefit from the tourism dollars it brings, and for all who pass on New Mexico’s outdoor traditions to their children in such a spectacular setting. ”

Heinrich also noted that the bill would protect traditional uses of the Caldera’s resources, as well as nearby pueblos’ sacred sites.

The existing management trust was devised in 2000 as a highly unusual management program for such a vast tract of public land. The trust was charged with establishing financial self-sufficiency for the preserve, a goal that many thought unrealistic at the time and which has never been met.

A National Park Service study has determined the Valles Caldera meets the criteria for inclusion in the national park system as a national preserve.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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