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Groups ask that Valle Vidal be declared a ‘special area’

SANTA FE, N.M. — A diverse collection of northern New Mexico groups is asking that the 100,000-acre Valle Vidal unit of the Carson National Forest be declared a “special Geographic Area” to protect its scenic beauty, watersheds and wildlife under an ongoing revision of the Carson Forest Plan.

A land management proposal for the vast area between Cimarron and Costilla was released Tuesday by a coalition of groups, including the Trout Unlimited and Taos-based Amigos Bravos watershed conservation organization.

valle vidal 06The Valle Vidal, just south of the Colorado border, is more than one-eighth the size of Rhode Island. The Valle Vidal Protection Act of 2006 closed the Valle Vidal from mineral extraction and drilling.

The U.S. Forest Service is working on a revision to its management plan for the Carson that “will update current management practices in this vital northern New Mexico resource that attracts hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, horseback riders and wildlife viewers from throughout the state and across the country,” says a news release from the coalition, which also includes the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, New Mexico Sportsmen and others.

The Forest Service is soliciting public comment and in March expects to release a preliminary draft plan on its website with alternative themes for public review. The draft Forest Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement will be available for public comment in late fall or early winter.

Valle Vidal was donated by Pennzoil to the American people in 1982, but has never been officially incorporated into the current Forest Plan, said the news release.

The Forest Service will include the area in the new plan “in some form or another during this planning process,” said Rachel Conn, projects director for Amigos Bravos. “This proposal is about ensuring that it is incorporated in a way that protects and enhances the values that have made the Valle Vidal a beloved part of the Northern New Mexico landscape.”

National Forest spokeswoman Kathy DeLucas said in an email that citizen comments “will be taken into consideration as we develop the plan and potential alternatives.”

“We are thankful that they (Amigos Bravos, et al) have taken the time to develop such a thoughtful plan, but we’re still early in the process,” DeLucas added.

A lengthy draft document from the environmental and hunting and fishing groups includes requests that Valle Vidal be managed for the benefit of “all of the people,” that various watersheds, wetlands and fisheries be protected, that ground-disturbing military maneuvers not be allowed and that the “scenic integrity of the Valle Vidal landscape” be retained.

The groups are asking that watersheds be “returned to functioning condition through restoration efforts” and that foraging for wildlife and livestock be “increased through restoration of the rich wet meadow complexes that exist” across the Valle Vidal. “The natural biological diversity of the area should be restored and maintained, including by efforts to bolster return of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, says the proposal.

The groups’ statement also asks that “opportunities for primitive and semi-primitive recreation are emphasized.” Their proposal calls for “no net new construction of permanent roads, no new construction of motorized trails” and removal of temporary roads, with the restoration of the waters and lands on which they are located.

The groups are asking that “summer and winter motorized cross-country travel for recreational purposes is not permitted” and that “recreational use of off-road and over-snow vehicles is limited to designated roads.” Limited use of off-road vehicles “for grazing purposes and implementing restoration projects” would be allowed on a permit basis.

Vehicle camping, under the group’s draft document, would be allowed only at developed campgrounds, with parking only in designated parking areas and camping facilities would be avoided “within riparian areas.”

The importance of the area’s wildlife is highlighted in the document. “A critical wildlife habitat, the Valle Vidal is home to an array of wildlife, including mountain lion, bear, wild turkey, the native Rio Grande cutthroat trout and one of the state’s largest herds of elk.”