Caldera holds off on new hiking trail

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By Associated Press


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Valles Caldera National Preserve won't yet invite further exploration by hikers after a plan to throw open access was tabled.

Valles Caldera Trust Board chairman Kent Salazar said at the panel's meeting Thursday in Albuquerque that the move comes amid concerns that Indian tribes and pueblos weren't consulted about the plan to allow unrestricted public access to the preserve, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

He added that review of endangered species, cultural resources and habitat protection also needed to be considered before the plan goes into action.

"It is clear from staff input that there are serious issues that must be addressed prior to the implementation of the program," Salazar said.

Jemez Pueblo Gov. Vincent Toya Sr. told the newspaper that the pueblo has always enjoyed a cooperative relationship with the preserve and that it was "shaken" when it learned of the board's plans to allow unrestricted access to hikers.

"I want to emphasize this type of policy threatens the integrity of our cultural properties," he said, adding that the tribe conducts many religious ceremonies on the preserve. "This type of policy denies absolute privacy, which is essential. We cannot conduct those with the risk of outside observers."

At its Sept. 26 meeting, the board voted to adopt a new policy allowing unrestricted access to all areas of the preserve, lifting the limited hikes of the past. At Thursday's meeting, the board had been expected to hear a presentation on implementing the policy, but that never took place.

Salazar later acknowledged that the board acted too quickly when it approved the policy change without first consulting tribal entities.

"Once we realized that, we knew we had to go back and revisit that," he said. "It should have been a motion to study it. The way it was done, it was clear we couldn't do this."

Salazar said the idea to provide unrestricted access to the Valles Caldera emerged from discussion of board goals and wasn't planned when it was passed in September. Since then, he said, concerns were raised by the Jemez and Santa Clara pueblos and many others opposed to the policy.

But he emphasized that it remained the board's goal to increase public access to the preserve.

The 90,000-acre preserve in the Jemez Mountains was a private ranch with grazing and logging operations before the federal government bought it in 2000. Jemez Pueblo has sued to recover the preserve as part of its original lands, and its governor has said the pueblo will appeal a lower ruling rejecting its claim.