Column: Valles Caldera Faces Troubled Future

Column by TOM RIBE
Santa Fe

The beautiful Valles Caldera National Preserve atop the Jemez Mountains faces a troubled future if Congress doesn’t act soon.

This vast volcanic wild and beautiful place is often cited by visitors as “national park quality.” The legislation that created the Preserve in 2000 expires in 2020 and if congress does nothing, the Preserve will cease to exist as a protected place and will become general multiple use Forest Service land with no staff and virtually no protection of any kind.

How could this happen? When New Mexicans pressed Congress to buy the old Baca Ranch from a willing seller in 1999, the legislation that created the Valles Caldera National Preserve was a compromise between those who wanted it to remain private and those who wanted it to be public land.

The legislation we have now is an “experiment” blending Cato Institute management ideas with public land management traditions. Though the VCNP has created a first rate science program, many people intimately involved with the Preserve feel
the other elements of the legislation have created layers of intractable problems. The experiment has not worked despite the best efforts of the staff.

Most important, the current legislation has a sunset clause in it, saying that the VCNP ceases to exist in 2020 unless Congress takes action to continue the experiment. A whole range of Los Alamos and other New Mexicans have been working tirelessly to end the troubled experiment and transfer management of the Valles Caldera to the National Park Service as a Preserve
where the public would have greater access for quiet recreation, expanded hunting and fishing opportunities, and more say on the management of this gem.

The National Park Service manages 19 other “preserves” where hunting, fishing and other local-friendly uses are allowed. The closest one to us is Great Sand Dunes National Preserve north of Taos.

Right now a bill to make the VCNP a permanent and sustainable Preserve is active in the U.S. Senate (Senate Bill 285). Senators Udall and Heinrich co-sponsor the legislation but it needs a companion bill in the U.S. House. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan has stated his support for urgently needed legislation but has yet to introduce a bill. Please write him and ask him to
support National Park Service management of the VCNP. His comment web address is:

Also, a national petition calling on Congress and the President to protect the VCNP is gaining signatures and needs to be spread widely around Los Alamos. This non partisan effort is being done to help the local private sector economy, protect the wildlife and watersheds of the Preserve, and sustain the science based management of the VCNP. Please sign and spread the
petition found at:

Time is running out for the VCNP. The place deserves high quality protection and we, its owners deserve the many benefits quality, sustainable management will bring.

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