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Senate approves National Park status for Manhattan Project, Valles Caldera

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President's signature will finalize new parks' status.

By Arin McKenna

The senate has just voted 89−11 to approve the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes public lands legislation creating the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (MPNHP) and granting National Park Preserve status to the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP).

Both pieces of legislation have been years in the making. Senators Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich, and former Sen. Jeff Bingaman were sponsors of both pieces of legislation. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan helped sponsor the MPNHP legislation in the House.

On Dec. 11. Heinrich delivered statements supporting the inclusion of several public lands bills in the NDAA. He stated,

"None of this would be possible were it not for years of effort and support from the local communities that helped craft these bills. Thanks to their work, New Mexico's critical public land based economic engine will continue to grow in the energy, tourism, sporting and recreation sectors."
Lujan also issued a statement after the House passage of the bill last week, stating that establish the MPNHP

“…helps preserve this story so that future generations can understand both the positive and negative impacts of the project.  In addition, it will recognize all those who played a key role in the national security of our nation and see that they will not be forgotten."

Lujan also stated that obtaining National Park Preserve status for the Valles “will have a positive impact on New Mexico’s economy while protecting our majestic lands and encouraging public access to our great outdoors.

The MPNHP legislation creates a national park with units in Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tenn. and Hanford, Wash. It is likely to take two years or more for the Department of Energy and the National Park Service to work out the logistics of the park and for a management plan to be drawn up.

Udall and Bingaman first proposed national park status for the Valles in 2010, believing that national park status provided the best means of protecting the preserve. The legislation they sponsored maintains a model very similar to that currently in place at the preserve, allowing for recreational activities, hunting, fishing and grazing.

The enabling legislation that created the VCNP in 2000 mandated that the preserve be self-sufficient by 2015, with a possible extension until 2020. Failing that, the trust managing the preserve would be dissolved and the management of the 89,000-acres preserve would be transferred to the U.S. Forest Service.

The board voted in September to request the five-year extension of the trust, since the trust has failed to achieve financial sustainability. The newly passed legislation makes that unnecessary.

The Columbine-Hondo area was also designated as wilderness as part of the public lands package in the NDAA.

Pres. Barak Obama has 10 days to either sign or veto the bill.

Look for more on this story in Sunday’s Los Alamos Monitor.