Preserve invites comments on grazing plans

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

Officials of the Valles Caldera National Preserve released their planning document for continued livestock grazing, a subject that has absorbed a great deal of attention during the first seven years of the organization’s existence.


More precisely, the proposed environmental assessment for “Multiple Use and Sustained Yield of Forage,” identifies key issues and weighs the pluses and minuses for various intensities of livestock grazing.


As a bottom line, it seeks to rationalize a plan “to continue programs for domestic livestock grazing” based on allocating about 40 percent of available forage for domestic livestock grazing and other purposes, depending on range conditions and the forage needs of the preserve’s substantial elk herd.


The report offers much evaluation of the trade-offs and side effects of four alternatives, all of which assume some level of livestock grazing.


At the lower end of the spectrum, only 5 percent of the available forage would be allotted to domestic livestock; at the upper end, as much as 15-20 percent.


The two more intensive alternatives differ in terms of whether the economic return would be given more or less weight compared to other related benefits, such as supporting neighboring livestock owners, or scientific and educational programs.


As customary under the National Environmental Protection Act, a “No Action” alternative would provide a baseline against which the other actions could be compared.


Representing opposition to grazing from an environmental perspective, Tom Ribe, executive director of Caldera Action, said this morning that his organization is still studying the assessment.


“We know this thing has been brewing for a long time,” he said. “We’re not at all in agreement with the idea that a working ranch has to mean cows.”


Disagreements on grazing policy at the preserve have often focused on the language in its founding legislation that calls for continuing to manage what was a ranch under private owners as a “working ranch” under public ownership.


“A ranch is private property where agriculture takes place,” Ribe said. “This place is either a preserve or it is not.”


The proposal recognizes as a key issue that “Optimizing the attainment of any one goal is not exclusive of the attainment of any other goal but is likely to affect the level and timing of such attainment.”


While the grazing assessment has come forward, issues relating to such issues as forest utilization and public access, or a comprehensive laying out all the proposed demands and impacts on the preserve plan for the preserve have not been formally addressed.


During this year’s grazing program, which received a number of compliments from preserve officials, there were also complaints of incompatibility between anglers in the fishing program and the cattle.


These kinds of conflicts, the assessment suggests, can be managed, “although the dominance of ranching activities varies between the alternatives.”


Caldera has also objected to having short notice for the public comment period given the 250-page document.


“We have 45 days, but 20 of those days were taken up by the holiday,” Ribe said. The document was released at the end of the week before Christmas and less than a month remains now.


Marie Rodriguez, the preserve’s natural resources coordinator, apologized for last minute changes and a delayed release at a board meeting of the governing trustees Dec 11. The document was published on Dec. 19, 2008 and comments are due on Feb. 2, 2009.


Caldera Action has requested that the comment period be extended to 90 days.


The environmental assessment and instructions for comment are available by link from the preserve’s website, www.vallescaldera.gov.