Seemingly biting the hand that feeds him, the executive director of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, Gary Bratcher, was quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Friday publicly criticizing the Valles Caldera Board of Trustees’ newly announced support for legislation currently in the U.S. Senate that would transfer control of the Preserve to the National Park Service. The members of the Board of Trustees serve as Bratcher’s supervisors.
According to an article entitled “Valles Caldera board supports Park Service takeover,” by Staci Matlock of the New Mexican, “Bratcher said he serves at the will of the board, but as a former executive in the private sector, he believes the Valles Caldera Trust model is still worth a try, especially in an era of shrinking federal budgets. He said last year the board proposed changes to the legislation that would have made it easier to meet the mandates. ‘I had really hoped during this amount of time we would get changes in the original act and get a good recovery in the cost for the public,’ he said. ‘Even the way the legislation is written, we were making inroads. We were improving public access and reducing the amount of public taxpayer funds needed. If this bill passes, the whole model remains unproven.’”
Bratcher also publicly called out the Board for not informing him in advance that Chairman Raymond Loretto was going to endorse a Park Service takeover in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks last week.
According to the New Mexican, “Bratcher, the trust’s executive director, said he didn’t know the board was going to support the legislation. ‘I was not advised by anyone on the board,’ he said, ‘and I don’t think that anyone on the staff was advised that this was going to be their testimony.’”
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees responded to the criticism by his employee in the New Mexican: “Loretto said that a majority of the four presidential appointees currently on the board decided to support S. 564, but didn’t vote on it until after the last public meeting held April 19. ‘We only found out we were to testify before the committee last week,’ said Loretto, a former governor of Jemez Pueblo. ‘We had to make a decision.’ Loretto said the trust staff has done a great job, but with the trust destined to dissolve in 2015 without further congressional action, ‘we need to start transitioning, regardless of which agency it goes to. It comes down to an emotional decision we had to make.’”
Closer examination of Bratcher’s assertion that the Board of Trustees had proposed changes to the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000 that would have “made it easier to meet the mandates,” is appropriate. In a letter to Congress from Oct. of 2009, Bratcher, asserting that “the requirement that the Trust be financially self-sustaining is impossible to achieve,” insisted that this legislative requirement be “removed and/or modified.” In other words, instead of proposing substantive changes to the original legislation to ensure that he could help achieve the mandate of financial self-sufficiency, he simply proposed that this goal be taken away so that it wouldn’t have to be achieved at all.
Bratcher has a record of making blatantly false and misleading statements in the media during his tenure as the Preserve’s executive director. In March of 2010, he was quoted in an article in the Albuquerque Journal as stating about the Preserve, “What will you cut out if you (a federal agency) take over?” [Executive Director Gary Bratcher] asks, then answers: “Everything but hiking and camping. That’ll be it.”
Of course, this is a whopper of a lie to the taxpaying public — the legislation before Congress specifically calls for hunting, fishing, and grazing, as well as a science and education program. The editors of the Albuquerque Journal publicly lambasted Bratcher for his obviously misleading statements the next day, including his false declaration that there would be no science program if the Park Service took over the Caldera, calling them “less than convincing,” “hard to believe,” and “laughable.” According to the Journal editorial from last year:
But the preserve managers’ argument that unique educational and scientific programs will not be available if the Park Service (or the U.S. Forest Service) takes over is less than convincing.
Showing off the preserve’s new educational and scientific center in Jemez Springs recently, executive director Gary Bratcher said stargazing with big telescopes, for example, might not be allowed under some other agency’s jurisdiction. Nor, Bratcher said, might class-loads of students, which the new center can host for overnight or even weeklong stays, be able to learn science hands-on by collecting data on the preserve and analyzing it in the center’s state-of-the-art lab.
That’s hard to believe — we recall Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, as just one example, hosting a bevy of state astronomy fanatics who treated park visitors to just such a night of stargazing.
Bratcher characterized the trust’s programs as “special,” apparently because the trust maintains strict control over access to the Valles Caldera. Agencies like the Park Service can’t do that, says Bratcher, so their programs aren’t going to be as special. Somebody should remind Bratcher that lack of public access has been the No. 1 complaint about the trust’s management of the preserve.
Bratcher also characterized the trust management as light on its feet and flexible. That’s laughable. The trust wasn’t even flexible enough to recognize the good financial deal offered recently by a national environmental group, which would have paid many times the going rate to lease the preserve’s grazing rights for the opportunity not to run cows.
The trust certainly hasn’t been flexible enough to figure out ways to increase opportunities for public access to the hiking, skiing, camping and sightseeing crowd, either. And that’s the main reason for the public sentiment that’s fueling the crusade to turn preserve management over to someone else.
Bratcher’s misleading assertions don’t stop with his misstatements to the press. In the Preserve’s most recent annual report to Congress, Bratcher falsely proclaimed in his “Executive Director Perspective” letter that there exists “strong public support” for management of the Preserve under his direction. However, as he is well aware, evidence shows the exact opposite to be true:
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.
The Jemez Pueblo and Santa Clara Pueblo, both of which have close ancestral ties to the Valles Caldera, have both endorsed Park Service control of the Preserve.
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.