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Caldera trust moves to secure future

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By Dave Menucucci

 

SANTA FE – Meeting in the Jemez Room of the Santa Fe Community College, the Valles Caldera Trust, the governing board of the national preserve, passed two significant resolutions. For the first time, starting this spring, limited overnight camping will be allowed on the preserve. Additionally, the board authorized the staff to initiate phase two of its public access and use plan.This access and use plan is a one of the Trust’s principal efforts to resolve how the preserve can best meet the complex and often seemingly contradictory objectives that were outlined in the enabling legislation.  The end product will be a comprehensive program that can meet the primary needs of the public while generating sufficient revenue to cover most or all of its operational expenses. Currently, the preserve spends more than $3 million for operations but collects much less than $1 million in revenue, mostly from hunting and fishing.  Trust Chairman Bill Keleher said the plan is essential because “the prospect of continuing government appropriations for operations is bleak.” Phase 1 of the planning process was initiated last July with a series of four open forums in which the public was invited to comment on how to use the property.  “This was a data gathering activity,” said Jeffrey Cross, the preserve’s executive director.  A lengthy list of desirable activities was identified, ranging from star gazing and birding to traditional ones, such as trophy elk hunting and hiking. A summary of the data collected in the $100,000 study is available from the Valles Caldera office in Jemez Springs.  In response to a question by Tom Ribe, of Caldera Action, Marie Rodriguez, a preserve staff member, said that the data would not be subjected to additional analysis, but that the raw data are available to the public upon request.In preparation for this next phase, the trust has recently issued a request for proposals to develop a business plan.  “This will allow us to look at the whole scope of potential activities on the preserve,” said trustee Tracy Hephner, “and all will be analyzed.”   Jim Range, another trustee, said the business plan is part of the board’s responsibility to thoroughly evaluate the preserve’s potential for financial self-sufficiency.   A copy of the RFP can be found at the preserve’s website, www.vallescaldera.com.Cross emphasized that the quality of any comprehensive land-use plan depends on “knowing and understanding your property.”  He said much of the first five years’ work on the preserve was spent surveying the resources.  In phase two, all this information will be integrated with the data obtained from the public forums as well as the results of the business planning effort.  The completion date for the final plan has yet to be determined, but is expected to be the consuming activity for the staff in 2008.While planning takes place in the Jemez Springs offices, campers will soon be enjoying cool summer nights in the great valleys and forested knolls of the preserve.  After a long-standing discussion, the board agreed to allow overnight camping activity that is integrated with existing programs, such as fishing, scientific research, or hiking. However, camping activities for the general public will still be restricted.  Cross explained that under the rules of National Environmental Protection Act unrestricted camping would be considered a new activity requiring a full environmental assessment, an arduous process.  Cross said he believes that camping can be legally integrated into existing activities that have already met NEPA regulations.Dennis Trujillo, the preserve’s manager, explained this initial program will provide data and experience that will make the ultimate, fully public program much easier to implement.  Details will appear on the preserve’s website this spring.In other actions, the board approved an indefinite number of executive sessions in 2008 and set dates for upcoming board meetings: May 14 (Albuquerque), June 12 (Jemez), Sept. 11 (Española) and Dec. 11 (Santa Fe).  Five trustees were in attendance Tuesday, including  Hephner, Dan Jiron, Bill Keleher, Stephen Henry and James Range.Absent were trustees James Gosz, Albuquerque; Raymond Loretto, Jemez Pueblo; Vito Spinale, acting superintendent, Bandelier National Monument; and Edward R. Tinsley III, Capitan.