Voting blind on Caldera

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Controversy > Resolution reveals little understanding of proposed legislation

By Arin McKenna

Third in a series

The actions of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Director Jim Lane were not the only questionable ones at the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission’s May 23 meeting.

Statements and questions by commissioners revealed that most had little or no knowledge of current legislation regarding the Valles Caldera National Preserve or of proposed legislation that would place it under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

In fact, the motion made by Commissioner Tom Arvas and unanimously approved reads, “I move to authorize Director Lane to oppose via letter and any other means any change in management or ownership of the Valles Caldera Preserve.”

Under the current legislation, such a motion is untenable. The trust will dissolve if it fails to achieve financial self-sufficiency by 2015. No one, including the preserve’s board of trustees, expects the trust to meet that goal, even if it is granted a possible five-year extension.

“The problem with the trust model–and I think it’s a failed model for public land here–is that it requires that self-sustaining formula, which limits access,” said VCNP board Chair Kent Salazar.

A New Mexico Wildlife Federation (NMWF) press release notes that “Director Jim Lane never told the commission that the current management is set to expire as soon as 2015, which will lead to the dissolution of Valles Caldera National Preserve. Under the scenario supported by the State Game Commission, the Valles Caldera will lose all its special protections and would become another minimally funded unit of Santa Fe National Forest.”

“It kind of shows how little they knew about the issue,” said NMWF executive director Jeremy Vesbach. “It opposes any change in management, which obviously is impossible. Even under existing law it’s going to go to the forest service.”

Lane did state that he would prefer NFS management, but also suggested that the preserve should be allowed to “continue to operate as it currently does.”

Even Arvas, who had visited with “the senator and his staff,” about the legislation appeared to misunderstand the meaning of the mandate stating that the preserve had to become “kind of self-sufficient” by 2015.

“I think one of the most disturbing things in what Game and Fish is doing is it seems that there’s no alternate plan Lane is pushing,” Vesbach said. “He’s just opposing what is a very well-crafted plan with a lot of local input and a lot citizen input.”

Lane also failed to present information that could have broadened the commission’s perspective, such as the strong support the legislation has received from bodies such as Los Alamos County Council, the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce and the Village of Jemez Springs.

There was no mention of a 24-page study conducted by the Harbinger Consulting Group for Caldera Action and the National Parks Conservation Association, which recommends NPS management. The report states that “The National Park Service is more likely than the US Forest Service to maintain a high and consistent level of funding, staffing, visitor services and resource protection.”

Arvas cited the fact that organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), the National Wild Turkey Federation and the National Rifle Association were forming a coalition to oppose to the legislation as an argument against it. A representative of Safari Club International also voiced his organization’s opposition during public comment.

Neither Arvas nor Lane mentioned the New Mexico hunting organizations that support the legislation. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) and Trout Unlimited joined NMWF in applauding the bill’s passage from committee. The NMWF press release regarding the Game Commission meeting mentions “a wide range of sportsmen’s groups around New Mexico” that support the bill.

BHA state chair Oscar Simpson noted that none of the 25 groups that signed RMEF’s letter of opposition were local.

“Not one on this list is a New Mexico organization. And none of these national organizations even asked us,” Simpson said. “And some of the chapters of the Turkey Federation support the legislation. So there are some real funny things going on.”

Salazar was “shocked and disappointed” that the commission took action without publishing the item in the agenda and with “misstatements” by the commissioners and Lane. He also questioned the validity of suggesting the issue constituted an emergency.

“What this did, we had all these sportsmen’s groups that after Game and Fish said the park service had no credibility started saying, ‘well, we don’t want that if we’re going to lose the hunting and fishing.’” Salazar said. “They created a false panic, I think. That’s troubling to me.

“Having an agency come out and just say they’re against it and not have good factual data or the time to get other public input, I just had a bad taste from it. I think that’s not how we should conduct ourselves as public servants.”

Valles Caldera/ NM Game and Fish

This series of articles is well researched and a great piece of muckracking journalism. Director of Game and Fish Lane failed to observe parliamentary procedure and was ill-informed of the issues. Bravo, Arin!