Friday, May 28, 2010

Valles Caldera

In a piece of good environmental news, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman introduced a bill yesterday to allow the National Park Service to take over the 89,000 acre Valles Caldera Preserve. In the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, the Valles Caldera was a remnant ranch from the days of late 19th century hunting preserves. This largely undeveloped piece of land has outstandingly beautiful landscapes. It was deeded to the federal government as a trust, with the understanding that a board of directors would develop a plan to make the ranch at least break even, if not turn a profit.

That process has been a disaster. Originally the board included a number of stakeholders, including many leading New Mexico environmentalists. Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration politicized the process, appointing figures to the board with little interest in running it or in turning it into a centerpiece of advanced land management.

Allowing the National Park Service to run the ranch, allowing limited access and continuing its historic mission, could be a boon to the place. It should not be overrun by tourists. New Mexico Hwy. 4 runs through the ranch's southern end, giving tourists views of the large elk herds on the property. For most tourists, that should be enough. Limited hiking, fishing, and hunting opportunities was always part of the Caldera's mission and this should continue.

In any case, this area is one of the few national jewels not in the park system and so this is very good news.