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Poll: Let Park Service run Caldera

SANTA FE – Roughly two-thirds of New Mexicans would like to see the National Park Service running the Valles Caldera National Preserve, according to poll results released Tuesday.

“We saw by a significant majority New Mexicans like that idea,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., which conducted the survey between Jan. 2-12. He said the support is broad, crossing political, regional and other demographic lines.

The poll was commissioned by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, which has supported Park Service management of the 89,000-acre preserve. “The National Park Service are the ones with the manpower and funding to make sure it’s run and protected in the exact same way it has been with the trust,” said Executive Director Garrett VeneKlasen, calling the trust a “failed land management experiment.”

A random sample of New Mexico voters showed 64 percent supporting Park Service management of the preserve in the Jemez Mountains, with 13 percent opposed. Among 100 sportsmen surveyed, 69 percent supported the idea and 9 percent were opposed. Sportsmen were defined as anyone who had hunted or fished at least once in the last two years, Sanderoff said.

Kent Salazar, chairman of the board for the Valles Caldera Trust, said that group does not take a position on the pending legislation regarding management of the land, but he said he thinks the poll probably reliably reflects the public’s point of view.

“They’ve been crying for more and more access, but that has been somewhat difficult in the face of our funding,” he said. “We don’t have the money for capital improvements.”

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Under current federal legislation, which had intended for the preserve to become self-supporting through visitor fees and other activities, the preserve could revert to the U.S. Forest Service as soon as next year if Congress does not approve continued funding for the preserve under the trust.

Ever since 2010, New Mexico senators have introduced bills in Congress to transfer Valles Caldera to Park Service management, but they have failed to pass. Asked the prospects for passage this year, VeneKlasen said, “It’s anyone’s guess.”

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