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The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a 89,000 acre ranch located in east central Jemez Mountains. The property was owned by the Dunnigan family from Abilene Texas until 2000 when it was sold to the Federal Government. Under private ownership the ranch generated significant income from three main sources; timber harvest, livestock grazing, and elk hunting.
The ranch was basically run by 3-4 full time employees and various seasonal help. The timber, cattle grazing, and elk hunting operations were, for the most part, contracted or leased out to private sector interests. Upon transfer to federal ownership in 2000, under the concept that the property be managed as an experiment in federal land management, including self sufficiency at some point, the Preserve now has twenty-eight full time staff, numerous seasonal employees, and is costing the federal government over $3 million per year to operate. Included with this document is the 2012 "State of the Preserve" report which is a comprehensive and detailed report on Preserve operations since its purchase.
According to Dennis Trujillo, Executive Director of the Preserve, the enabling legislation that established the Preserve contains two important thresholds. The first is the requirement that the
Preserve provide Congress with a benchmark report in 2015 that, "If after the fourteenth full fiscal years from the date of acquisition of the Baca ranch under section 104(a), the Board believes the Trust has met the goals and objectives of the comprehensive management program under section 108(d), but has not become financially self- sustaining, the Board may submit to the Committees of Congress, a recommendation for authorization of appropriations beyond that provided under this title." The second threshold is, "(B) During the eighteenth full fiscal year from the date of acquisition of the Baca ranch under section 104(a), the Board shall submit to the Secretary its recommendation that the Trust be either extended or terminated including the reasons for such recommendation."
Recent political initiatives by various conservation groups including the Wildlife Federation have resulted in New Mexico Congressmen Udall and Heinrich introducing legislation that would transfer the Preserve to the National Park Service (NPS). It is our understanding that the impetus for this is their assertion that the enabling legislation requires that the Preserve will transfer to the Santa Fe National Forest of the United States Forest Service (USFS) in 2015 if the Preserve has not become self sufficient.
As noted above, the Preserve is required to provide Congress with a benchmark report in 2015, and at that time Congress will have the ability to continue authorizing appropriations so it will not automatically transfer to the USFS In addition to this, the proponents of the transfer to the NPS insist that the NPS has sufficient funding capability to take over the Preserve without needing additional appropriations from Congress.
Over the last week or so it has been rumored that the NPS has in fact notified Congress that they will require additional appropriations (several million $s) to be able to manage the Preserve if it is transferred.
During my discussion with Dennis Trujillo, he felt that this new realization would result in the New Mexico Congressmen's legislation to be stalled, but there may be an attempt to include it in some sort of an Omnibus bill where it would less obvious.
Upon becoming aware of Congressmen Udall and Heinrich's intent to introduce legislation to transfer the Preserve to the NPS, the Department, at the direction of the Stale Game Commission, provided comment vehemently opposing the bill and suggesting that the most appropriate entity to lake over the Preserve, should the experiment be deemed a failure, would be the USFS.
Recently the Department and State Game Commission Chairman Scott Bidcgain have discussed the prospect of the transfer of the Preserve to Stale ownership via the State Game Commission. The information below represents prospective opportunities that State ownership may provide that could be expected to transition the current federal fiscal burden of $2-3 million annually lo positive State revenue of S500K to $1 million annually due to reduced employee numbers and management costs, cooperation with other state agencies and universities, enhanced use of volunteers, and partnerships with private sector via concessionaires, the wood products industry, livestock producers, outdoor recreational businesses, and hunting & fishing related corporate sponsors.
Potential Game Protection Fund Revenue & Economic Development
1. Wood Products - Discussions with several leaders in New Mexico's wood products industry suggest that under private ownership prior to the transfer to the federal government, much of the large, mature marketable timber was harvested and all thai remains currently is small diameter stock that is desirable for posl & pole and compressed or wood pellet products. There is also some larger salvage timber that may be desired and valuable for the next 1-2 years as a result of recent wildfires. According lo these experts Ihe estimated annual revenue from these wood products may be from $100 - $300 K/year.
2.Livestock Grazing - Based on forage studies by the Preserve it appears that the property would capable of seasonally running 2,000 - 3,000 head of livestock each year depending on precipitation. Significant interest from local and state producers exists and competitive bidding on the livestock grazing may result in annual revenues of $200 - S34HIK / year based on an estimated fee of $20/mo./ head X 4 mos.
3. Concessionaires - There are numerous recreational activities that could occur on the properly. Many of them are being offered currentiy and they include hiking, van tours, special guided fishing, cabin and lodge rentals, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, etc. Per discussions with USFS and Dennis Trujillo, the most efficient and effective way lo accommodate these activities is by using concessionaires. The federal government (USFS & NPS) does use concessionaires throughout the country and the Preserve is currently developing a plan to begin using them also. The standard rate or lees charged is between 3% - 10% of adjusted gross income / yr. for each concessionaire. In some cases where interest or demand for providing special services is greater, the rale may be as high as 12% - 15%.
Another fee structure that may be more effective and offer more accountability is charging a concessionaire a per person/per day fee. A third option may be establishing a flat annual or seasonal fee. In projecting what the potential revenue may be under State Game Commission ownership several factors would need to be known such as how many guests per day would be allowed, what activities would be realistic, what demand exists for certain activities, and Commission rule or fee schedules that establish all. It should be noted that in 2012 the Preserve estimated that there were approximately 112, 000 visitors. If °0% of these were non-hunting or fishing guests and a flat fee of $10 per person were charged, the revenue would be
over $ 1 million. It is not realistic that under State Game Commission ownership this many people would be allowed on the property, but when partnerships, cooperative agreements, and private sector relationships are considered, the potential for concessionaire revenues and the resulting economic benefits to the state are significant.
University Research - The property represents significant research opportunities for a variety of disciplines and university researchers from all over the country want access. Currently the Preserve does not charge anything for researchers use. Under stale ownership the research opportunities could generate significant revenue through various fee structures identified in the concessionaire section above or more simply via a Hat fee per Commission set fee schedule. In addition, a significant amount of the research opportunities could be dedicated to New Mexico universities that have nationally recognized expertise in the major research assets the Preserve contains. For example:
New Mexico Tech has expertise in volcanic, hydrothermal, hydrological, and climate research.
University of New Mexico has expertise in tribal & cultural research.
New Mexico State University has expertise in livestock grazing & management research.
New Mexico Highlands University has expertise in timber and wood products research and management.
If each of these four universities were assessed a flat annual fee of $20 K per year the revenue would be $ 80 K. In addition, other universities or research facilities interest may generate another $20 - $ 100 K per year.
General Access Fees - Recreational activities that may not warrant the need for or use of concessionaires such as wildlife watching, seasonal OHV / snowmobile use, camping, self guided tours, hiking, biking etc. could generate significant income based on daily or seasonal fees as established by Game Commission rule or fee schedules. As noted in the Concessionaire section, the number of visitors participating in these activities could be in the thousands.
6. Television & Motion Picture Filming - Per discussion with Dennis Trujillo the Preserve currently charges production companies approximately $5,000 per day for filming activities. Revenue from this activity would depend on annual requests but could be as high as $50 K - $ 150 K per year at this rate. As mentioned prior, the Commission would likely establish a fee schedule for this activity.
Conservation Education / Outdoor Camps
Various facilities that exist on the property such as large bunk houses, a lodge, several cabins and A-frames would allow for up to 30-50 youth/adults/parents per week for up to 12 weeks to participate in wildlife and fisheries conservation camps, first-time hunter camps for youth & women, fishing camps/clinics, OHV training, and turkey/elk hunting camps. It is highly likely that partnerships could be developed with corporate entities such as the Rocky Mountain elk Foundation, The Wild Turkey Federation, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, conservation organizations, local OHV retailers, and education professionals such that these camps could become huge draws to the state and be accomplished at little to no cost to the Commission or the state.
Youth Hunting Opportunities
1. Grouse hunts - The Preserve currently does not allow access for hunting grouse while the property represents on of the best grouse hunting opportunities in the state. Numerous logging roads and spruce/fir forests result in consistently healthy populations and easy access that would be an incredible opportunity for parents and their kids to become avid hunters. (8-10 kids/parents per day for up to 30 days).
2. Additional youth elk hunts - Based on an evaluation by Department biologists the elk herd on the Preserve can sustain an additional 120-160 elk hunting opportunities and a portion of these could be designated for youths. As previously mentioned these hunts could be coupled with elk hunting workshops or camps in partnership with RMEF, Bass Pro Shops, or other corporate or conservation organizations.
3. Youth turkey hunts - The Preserve currently allows a limited number of hunters on the property to hunt turkeys, but the resource could sustain increasing this and as with the youth elk hunting ideas above, combined with turkey hunting workshops or camps in partnership with NWTF, corporate sponsors, or other conservation groups.
Additional Hunting Opportunities
1. *** All Big Game hunting subject to draw will go to New Mexico Residents *** - Pursuant to SB 196 from the 2012 legislature all big game hunting issued through the draw on game Commission owned lands must go to New Mexico residents.
2. Bear & Cougar - Currently no bear or cougar hunting is allowed on the Preserve, but under State ownership the Commission could establish these opportunities.
3. Mobility Impaired, Military Veteran, and Mentored elk hunting could be expanded by Commission as the elk herd can sustain significantly more hunting pressure..
4. Furbearer trapping - No trapping is currently allowed under federal ownership but opportunities to allow trapping definitely exist.
5. Additional elk opportunity would be made available as Department biologists are confident that up to an additional 160 elk hunting licenses could be issued.
Fishing and Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Restoration
1. The numerous streams and creeks on the Preserve provide significant angling opportunity and provide 120-150 days of fishing access. The State Game Commission, through rule making processes, may need to establish daily participation limits and consider access fees in addition to regular license fees. In addition to normal angling opportunity there is the potential for partnering with conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited or corporate sponsors to hold youth fishing clinics or camps, fly tying workshops, and aquatic education seminars.
2. There are approximately 36 miles of stream available for Rio Grand Cutthroat Trout restoration efforts. While this species has not yet been listed as threatened or endangered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, it is a candidate species and opportunities to establish the species in as many miles of streams in Northern New Mexico as possible will reduce the likelihood that they are listed. If the species is listed it will likely result in significant economic impacts to many livestock producers and other users of USFS and private lands in the Northern part of the state.
Threatened & Endangered Species Conservation
1. Meadow Jumping Mouse re-introduction. The US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently considering listing this species and the Department does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to oppose it. However the Director has assigned Department biologists to identify habitat that the Commission owns that may conducive to establishing the species and bringing these populations back to levels that would allow them to be recovered.
2. The Preserve represents significant habitat that is crucial for the Jemez Mountain Salamander and state ownership would allow for the state to have more influence in its protection & potential research.
3. The Preserve has several large Gunnison Prairie Dog populations that may be of sufficient size to consider introducing Black-footed Ferrets. If successful this may assist with reaching the US Fish & Wildlife Service's recovery goals for the species and eventual de-listing.
Transfer of the VCNP from USFS to the State Game Commission would require Congressional action much like current legislation proposes to transfer to the NPS. Strategies to initiate this may include Governor support for the concept, meetings & discussions with New Mexico's Congressional delegation, political support from nationally influential organizations such as the NRA and political support from Congressmen from other states that recognize the value in reducing the cost to tax payers of continued federal management.
NMDGF Management Costs / Needs
1. Should the Preserve be transferred to the State Game Commission the Department would require legislative and executive action to increase the agency's FTE count and associated budget by 5-6 positions and S500 - S600K. These positions would include one supervisor and four employees responsible for oversight of the day to day operations. An additional FTE may be needed to manage the fiscal component of the property including concessionaire agreements, MOUs, JPAs, website content, permitting, etc. The increased budget would also be used for the additional vehicles, equipment, and associated costs.
2. Facility maintenance - There are numerous facilities on the Preserve and maintenance will be a significant task although the Preserve has spent a great deal of time and money addressing this issue. It is estimated that an additional budget increase of $50K - $ 100K / yr. may be needed to ensure all facilities are kept up. Given the desire to utilize volunteers, concessionaires, and various other sponsors or entities maintenance costs may be folded into contracts, agreements, or arrangements such that the Department actually realizes very littJe cost.
3. Fencing maintenance. The Preserve has approximately 54 miles of perimeter fence that, due to damage by snow and elk will require annual maintenance. The estimated annual cost for this maintenance may be $20 - S30 k per year. It is suggested that any cross fencing needed for livestock management will be the responsibility of those producers contracting to run cattle on the property. As with other maintenance needs, the use of volunteers or partners may decrease this significantly.
4. Estimated total management costs first year would be approximately S570K - $730K.