Game and Fish makes bid for Valles Caldera

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By Arin McKenna

At the State Game Commission’s Aug. 22 meeting, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish presented a new plan for Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The proposal, developed through discussions between the department and State Game Commission Chairman Scott Bidegain, advocates for transferring the preserve to state ownership under the management of Game and Fish and takes fee-based usage to new heights.
Despite the fact that the Valles Caldera Trust has only achieved 30 percent self-sufficiency after 12 years in operation, Game and Fish professes it can “transition the current federal fiscal burden of $2- to $3 million annually to positive State revenue of $500,000 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 and fishing related corporate sponsors.”
“Since when is government land supposed to turn a profit, anyway? There are a lot of values, and a lot of them are nonmonetary values,” said Caldera Action Executive Director Tom Ribe.
“What these people want to do is turn it back into a 1950s multiple use free-for-all, where it’s cows and sheep and dirt bikes and logging. That’s not what the public wants. The public has made that abundantly clear. Otherwise 285 wouldn’t be in the senate. It’s not like some radicals put that bill there. That bill is there because it reflects the majority of the public sentiment in the state.”
Lane’s proposal bears little relationship to actual revenues generated at the preserve and raises several issues about his vision for the preserve.
The Valles Caldera Trust’s 2012 Annual Report to Congress states that average annual income from 2008 through 2012 for grazing, recreation and other activities was $733,000 in gross receipts.
The Los Alamos Monitor researched some key elements of the Game and Fish proposal. (Read the entire proposal on at losalamosmonitor.com).
Livestock Grazing: “Based on forage studies by the Preserve,” the proposal claims the Caldera could support 2,000 to 3,000 head of cattle a year, bringing in revenues of $200,000 to $300,000. It further states that “significant interest from local and state producers exists.”
The 2012 State of the Preserve and the 2012 Grazing Report dispute that projection. The preserve’s adaptive management program research indicates that VCNP can support 541 Animal Units sustainably in an average year. Forage levels in 2012 allowed for 773 head of cattle, generating $30,920.
Wood Products: The plan anticipates $100,000 to $300,000 a year from selling small diameter lumber and salvage timber from recent wildfires (based on discussions with several leaders in New Mexico’s wood products industry).
The State of the Preserve reports that “extensive logging in the 20th century nearly eliminated commercially viable forests, replacing them with dense, small-diameter stands. Current forest conditions are unlikely to support profitable commercial logging for many years. Forest restoration to reduce fire hazards and improve wildlife habitats and watershed health will be a costly undertaking in the coming decades.”
Recreational fees: The plan calls for continuing the practice of charging for recreational activities, and adds a fee of $10 per person for “non-hunting and fishing guests.” There is currently no charge to enter the preserve. Bandelier National Monument charges $12 per vehicle for a seven-day permit and New Mexico State Parks charge $5 per vehicle per day.
Wildlife watching, self-guided tours, hiking and biking would all be fee-based, and off road vehicles and snowmobiles would be allowed into the preserve–for a price.
Concessionaires would run guided hikes, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, fishing, snowmobiling and van tours and manage camping, cabin and lodge rentals.
Limited access/Increased hunting and fishing: The preserve recorded 112,000 visitors in 2012.
The Game and Fish plan states that “It is not realistic that under State Game Commission ownership this many people would be allowed on the property…”
The plan does, however, increase hunting and fishing related visitation, stating that “the Preserve can sustain an additional 120-160 elk hunting opportunities” and suggests offering “youth hunting opportunities” for grouse, elk or turkey.
Game and Fish would establish conservation education/outdoor camps for hunting, fishing and off road vehicle training, run by groups such as “the Rocky Mountain elk Foundation, The Wild Turkey Federation, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, conservation organizations, local OHV retailers, and education professionals.”
According to the proposal, “these camps could become huge draws to the state and be accomplished at little to no cost to the commission or the state.”
The plan does not designate money to build new infrastructure to house those camps, nor does it allocate money to address deferred maintenance, health and safety issues and historic preservation for historic ranch properties that currently house hunting groups.
University Research: The proposal anticipates generating “significant revenue” by charging for research opportunities.
It proposes an annual flat fee of $20,000 for state universities and assumes it could generate $20,000 to $100,000 a year from other institutions.
Neither Director Jim Lane nor commission Chair Scott Bidegain responded to two email requests with questions regarding this proposal.
Congress must approve any transfer of the preserve. Lane’s strategies to initiate that process include enlisting Gov. Susana Martinez’ support, meetings with New Mexico’s Congressional delegation and soliciting political support from “nationally influential organizations such as the NRA” and congressmen from other states who “recognize the value in reducing the cost to taxpayers of continued federal management.”