Earlier this week U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich reintroduced legislation to transfer the management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service (NPS).
Udall and retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman first introduced this legislation in 2010 in light of inconsistent funding, the need for infrastructure improvements and concerns that the Preserve would not achieve financial self-sustainability by 2015, as directed by the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000.
A study requested by Udall and Bingaman in 2009 determined that the Valles Caldera met the high criteria for inclusion in the NPS, noting its significant national value and unique, unaltered geology.
The bill directs the NPS to take over management in a way that protects the Preserve's natural and cultural resources. Hunting, fishing and cattle grazing would continue to be permitted under the legislation. Additionally, the measure strengthens protections for tribal cultural and religious sites and ensures local tribes access to the area.
The first calls to bring the Valles Caldera into the NPS were in 1899. In four separate studies throughout the next century the Park Service found that the area was suitable for protective status under its management.
It wasn't until 2000 that Bingaman, retired Sen. Pete Domenici and then-Rep. Udall were successful in passing legislation to acquire the property for $100 million. The law established an experimental management framework where a Board of Trustees would manage the Preserve as a working ranch with public access, with the goal of becoming financially self-sustaining by 2015.
I can personally attest to the extreme beauty of the Valles Caldera. A few years ago my wife and I hiked the Cerro Grande Route, which takes hikers to the top of 10,199-foot Cerro Grande Peak. If you ever visit Bandelier National Monument, or are in the Santa Fe area, I highly recommend this hike.