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New controversy has erupted over a long-standing issue at the Valles Caldera National Preserve: cattle grazing. Last month, trust officials announced that 2,000 head of cattle would be managed on the preserve this summer. This is four times the number that grazed last summer and the most since the late 1990s, when 5,000-8,000 head of cattle roamed the former private ranch owned by the Dunigan family.Gary Morton, of Las Vegas, N.M., captured the award. He and the preserve are in final negotiations, but the fundamental agreement requires a baseline payment of $56,000. Additional bonus payments will be based on animal weight gain. Morton will cooperate with preserve scientists in collecting a broad range of data to help assess the impact of the grazing on the preserve. These data include cattle movements, effectiveness of various management techniques, impact of grazing on forage quantity and the resulting effect on other ungulates.The award was met with skepticism from Caldera Action, a local watchdog group that has been dubious about cattle grazing. “Cows pollute water, destroy stream structure, and damage fisheries while impacting birds and mammals,” said Tom Ribe, the group’s chair. .
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