Roundup begins in Valles Caldera

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By Roger Snodgrass

ESPA'OLA – The Valles Caldera Trust fielded a skeleton crew of board members for Thursday’s meeting at Northern New Mexico College, the minimum five members needed for a quorum.

The Trust is the governing board of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, an 89,000 acre piece of public land in the Jemez Mountains, twenty miles west of Los Alamos, where roundup is beginning for a herd of 1960 yearlings who have summered there this year.

Secretary of the Trust Stephen Henry said the current acting executive director, Lucia M. Sandoval Turner was said to have a badly sprained ankle, and so she was also unable to attend.

Jim Gosz, UNM biology professor and forestry representative to the board was in Idaho on business and Raymond Loretto, former governor of Jemez Pueblo was called to veterinary duty at the State Fair in Albuquerque. With Chairman Bill Kelleher in Washington attending a function for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Vice Chair Ed Tinsley, campaigning for the 2nd District Congressional seat in Southern New Mexico, it fell to Henry, as acting chair to announce the results of the board election.

The new officers will be the same as the old officers, by unanimous decision, he said.

Business included approving a $4.25 million budget for next year and reports by Dennis Trujillo, manager of the preserve, Chief Scientist Bob Parmenter and other staff members.

One common theme, linking the various business interests of the preserve was once again the issue of grazing.

The herd is moving back to the main pasture, “as we speak,” said Trujillo.

“There were challenges for the trust and for the operators,” during the summer grazing season,” he said, adding that the contractor told him, “Steers act like teenagers. They take off whenever they want, cattleguards and fences.”

They are scheduled to ship out Sept. 30. A final report on this year’s activities will be available for the next board meeting in December.

For the first time, in the history of the preserve, grazing came in as a net positive in the revenue column for Fiscal Year 2008, showing “collections” of $25,984 by the end of August with one more month remaining in the period.

By far the largest source of income was in the hunting category, which collected $367,276 for the year, followed by fishing, which brought in $65,658. Lodging and summer recreation collections, with $29,015 and $36,200 respectively, also exceeded grazing, as did store sales of $41,900.

Total “collections,” so far have amounted to $624,143, which amounts to about one-sixth of the preserve’s expected expenses for the year of about $3.75 million.

Grazing is also the next environmental stewardship issue up for review, with an environmental assessment now drafted and ready for public comment within the next few weeks, Natural Resource Coordinator Marie Rodriguez reported

Trujillo proposed some changes to the fishing program for next year, based on a 43 percent decline in net revenues over the last four years, down to $19,000 this year from $35,000 in 2005.

Trujillo said among advantages the new plan, which would rely on reservations, rather than a lottery, would be the fact that anglers could know right away what dates they had scheduled and could make plans sooner. Although the maximum number per day would fall to 24 from 40, Trujillo said, the average this year was only 17. Each angler would have 3.5 miles of stream to fish, rather than the current 1.5.

The new system also “works around the grazing program,” Trujillo said.

Questioned by Tom Ribe, executive director of Caldera Action, about the changes, Trujillo acknowledged some conflicts between the grazing and fishing activities.

He credited the operator for trying to deal with the problem, and said there were better ways to distribute a large herd.

“The only water available are the streams,” he said. “To move 500 cattle out of the river is a lot of work. A lot of people have not had experience trying to get on a river with a few or a lot of livestock.”

There were at least four aspirants for the vacant post of executive director of the organization in attendance.

The next meeting will be held Dec. 11 in Santa Fe.