INTERIOR DEPARTMENT News:
- Area underscores importance of Land and Water Conservation Fund to preserve nation’s natural, cultural and outdoor recreation heritage
SANTA FE – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined state, tribal and local leaders Saturday to celebrate the designation of Valles Caldera National Preserve, one of the country’s newest additions to the National Park Service.
“Today we celebrate an outstanding addition to the National Park family – the Valles Caldera,” Secretary Jewell said. “This spectacular area tells a story of New Mexico’s rich natural and cultural heritage. We are honored to serve as stewards of this land to ensure that it remains cared for and shared with future generations.”
Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who spearheaded the effort in 2010 to transfer the preserve from the Forest Service to the National Park Service, and U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, who picked up the baton, joined Secretary Jewell and other community members at the event. The National Park Service took over management of the preserve Oct. 1, 2015.
Covering nearly 89,000 acres and nestled inside a 13-mile wide collapsed volcanic caldera in the Jemez Mountains, Valles Caldera National Preserve was established by Congress in 2000 using $101 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). It represented the largest land acquisition in size and cost in New Mexico’s history and has been under the management of the Valles Caldera Trust since 2002.
The highly successful LWCF program uses a small portion of federal royalties from offshore oil and gas activities to invest in public lands across the nation. Congress allowed the program to expire Sept. 30, but Congressional members and citizens are actively working to reauthorize and fund LWCF so that special places like Valles Caldera can be preserved.
“Valles Caldera is a perfect example of the key role the Land and Water Conservation Fund has played in enhancing public lands from city parks to national parks over the last 50 years,” Jewell said. “I join with Americans across the country in calling on Congress to permanently reauthorize and provide dedicated funding for this program in order to honor our nation’s outdoor heritage and provide resources to local communities who want to invest in conservation, historic preservation and recreational opportunities.”
During the event, Jewell also underscored that the Valles Caldera is a sacred landscape to many tribes, and that the Interior Department is committed to protecting those values as stewards of the preserve. She thanked tribal participants, including Gov. Raymond Loretto of the Pueblo of Jemez and Gov. Michael Chavarria of the Pueblo of Santa Clara.
Speakers at the Saturday dedication acknowledged the important contributions of the Valles Caldera Trust’s 13 years of management, including its work to restore the health of the forest and its robust science and education program. Ken Smith, former chairman of the Valles Caldera Board of Trustees, participated, along with National Park Service Regional Director Sue Masica and Park Superintendent Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, former executive director of the Valles Caldera Trust.