The Valles Caldera Trust recently released its 2010 report to Congress. You can download this 73-page report (PDF) by clicking here.
The document contains a wide array of information regarding the Valles Caldera National Preserve and its activities last year.
However, the credibility of this report is called into question in an opening letter by the Preserve’s Executive Director, Gary Bratcher, who criticizes last year’s U.S. Senate legislation (the “Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act”) that would have ended the Valles Caldera Trust’s “experiment in land management” by transferring control of the Caldera to the National Park Service. The letter also speciously claims strong public support for Trust management of the Caldera. From Mr. Bratcher:
The Board of Trustees has publicly noted that there is no current emergency situation that justifies the haste in which this proposed legislation has been considered by the Senate Energy Committee. In fact, the current management situation with the Preserve has never been better. We have strong public support with increased access and recreational uses.
This attempt to “kick the can down the road” by Mr. Bratcher fails to obscure the fact that there currently does exist quite an urgent situation at the Preserve that calls for swift action. Specifically, both Mr. Bratcher and the former Chairman of the Trust, Steve Henry, have stated that the VCNP’s “experiment in land management” is doomed to fail: Mr. Bratcher has written that the “requirement that the Trust be financially self-sustaining is impossible to achieve,” [download (PDF), p. 5] while Mr. Henry has written, “simply stated, the Valles Caldera Trust can never achieve financial independence under this legal regime.” [download (PDF), p. 37]
If the VCNP does not achieve financial self-sustainability, according to the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000, management of the Preserve will be transferred to the Santa Fe National Forest. Since the leadership of the Trust has acknowledged that it is impossible to achieve profitability, it appears to be a certainty that the Valles Caldera will become part of the Forest Service without Congressional action.
The situation at the VCNP is certainly critical if New Mexicans don’t want the sort of significant resource overuse that the Santa Fe National Forest experiences throughout much of the Jemez Mountains to be allowed to creep onto the Valles Caldera, the scenic crown jewel of Northern New Mexico.
Throughout the past few years, many New Mexicans from across the political spectrum have explicitly advocated that the Caldera should be managed by the National Park Service, the agency that that for nearly a century has been tasked “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Despite Mr. Bratcher’s assertion that the management of the Preserve enjoys “strong public support,” there is little evidence to back up this claim, and a great deal of evidence to the contrary:
- During two well-attended public meetings in Los Alamos County last year designed to allow County Councilors to hear from members of the public about which management structure they support on the Valles Caldera, 86% of attendees indicated that they supported replacing the Valles Caldera Trust with Park Service management on the Preserve.
- Both major newspapers in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican, have endorsed an end to the Valles Caldera Trust and its replacement by the National Park Service, as has the local newspaper serving the mountain communities adjacent to the Caldera, the Jemez Thunder.
- The bipartisan Los Alamos County Council unanimously endorsed replacing the Trust with Park Service management of the Caldera last year, as did the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce.
- A wide, bipartisan coalition of grassroots organizations, elected officials, pueblos, and newspapers have all called for Park Service management of the VCNP. See a list of members of this coalition here.
From the available evidence, Mr. Bratcher’s assertion that the Preserve enjoys “strong public support” is false. Rather, the evidence clearly shows that most New Mexicans prefer that the National Park Service arrowhead emblazon the gates of the Caldera.
VCNP management has clearly made strides to attempt to improve its public access and managerial effectiveness. They should be applauded for this. They should not, however, be commended for including inaccurate information in official reports to Congress.