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The Board of Trustees of the Valles Caldera National Preserve will meet Thursday at 6 p.m. in Los Alamos (at the Hilltop House), and we encourage the public to come and ask plenty of questions.
Though the trustees make their decisions in closed door meetings held before the public one, (possibly in violation of the Valles Caldera legislation), the public meetings can be informative and at times entertaining, and they provide a chance to watch the “experiment” in action.
The idea of having a “Trust” manage the Valles Caldera National Preserve rather than a professional land management agency has been an expensive and troubling experience. After nine years the trust experiment has proven to be a failure.
The “trust” concept apparently was intended to have the Valles Caldera run like a business instead of an agency, but accounting problems, and the fact that public lands have set costs for complying with laws and managing public values that have no monetary value has meant that the business idea is a poor match for a piece of wild country that the public wants protected and open to its owners.
The idea that the VCNP should achieve financial self-sufficiency or even come close to it cannot be achieved without commercial developments, corporate sponsorships and high fees collected from the public owners of the preserve.
Further the trustees have shown themselves unable do basic land management. They hire private consulting companies for tens of thousands of dollars to do basic things that are done in the ranger offices of any public land agency at minimal expense.
The trustees have rejected many consulting contract products because they didn’t fit with their private sector instincts, wasting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in the process.
For example the upcoming public access meetings will be the third such sets of meetings on this basic public land function. The last public meetings on recreation and access cost the Trust more than $150,000 and apparently the results were effectively discarded.
This time the “public access” process will be as much about commercial developments like lodges, RV parks and new roads than about hiking, skiing or having picnics by the stream.
Expect sales pitches at the Thursday meeting for resort developments on your public preserve.
VCNP trustees answer to nobody but Congress. They cannot achieve financial self-sufficiency without great damage to the preserve. The trust has frustrated public involvement and has largely kept the public out of its preserve.
The VCNP now struggles for its basic appropriation each year, as if Congress has lost faith in the idea of a piece of public land run by inexperienced political appointees.
We can only conclude that the trust model has no advantage whatsoever over a traditional land management agency and in fact is far inferior to time tested professional management by people working directly for the public.
Running the VCNP as a National Park Service Preserve will cost the taxpayer less than the Trust does and we will have a fully accountable and professional agency in charge.
It’s time to abandon the Trust experiment, learn our lessons, chalk up our experience and move on with the National Park Service in charge.
Tom Ribe is President of Caldera Action, a 501(c)(3) citizen organization and part of a coalition of organizations interested in protecting the natural resources of the VCNP and providing for appropriate public access to the public land.