Valles Caldera Bill Clears Key Senate Committee With Bipartisan Support

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Legislation sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to transition the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico to new management to increase public access cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today with bipartisan support.

Watch the video from the markup in the Energy & Natural Resources Committee today. 

The Senators introduced S. 285, the Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act, on February 12, 2013. The bill would transfer management of the Preserve from the current Board of Trustees to the National Park Service (NPS) under a preserve model. Hunting and fishing would be mandated under the legislation. The proposal was developed after extensive input from local residents, sportsmen, veterans organizations, business owners, and elected officials.

"The Valles Caldera has stood out as the icon of the Jemez Mountains, a treasure to New Mexico and a landscape of national significance.  I'm proud to see the legislation we've worked on so hard clear this important hurdle," said Udall, who has been a leader advocating for conservation of the Valles Caldera for over a decade. "The legislation that was approved by committee today respects and preserves the longstanding educational, grazing, and exceptional hunting and fishing opportunities that are cherished and valued by so many New Mexicans. National Park Service management will ensure steadier funding and more resources are available so the Valles Caldera will continue to prosper as a natural wonder that all can enjoy."

"By shifting to Park Service management, we can open the Caldera to the public while conserving the one-of-a-kind resources found there," said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "As an avid hunter, expanding hunting opportunities for the public is one of the primary reasons I'm supporting this proposal. The preserve model ensures that hunting and fishing remain central activities for the public to enjoy, and NPS management will help balance expanded public access with conserving the natural and cultural resources found in the area."

Heinrich also highlighted that the Park Service management would help bring more visitors and raise the national profile of the preserve for visitors from outside of New Mexico.  He cited that the increase in visitors at the preserve is expected to bring more than 200 jobs and $8 million in wages to the communities in the region. 

Udall and retired Sen. Jeff Bingaman first introduced the Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act in 2010 to ensure consistent funding, infrastructure improvements and to alleviate concerns that the Preserve would not achieve financial self-sustainability by 2015, as directed by the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2000.  

The bill is backed by a diverse and growing list of local residents, sportsmen, veterans organizations, business owners, and elected officials.

"This bill will make sure that hunting and fishing opportunities on the Valles Caldera are offered equally to all by removing the current congressional mandate to generate revenue through fees, which shifts hunting and fishing opportunities away from citizens of average financial means. I especially appreciate that S. 285 says specifically that NPS ‘shall' permit hunting and fishing within the Preserve, and I believe the national preserve model is a good fit for the unique needs of Valles Caldera," said John Olivas, Chairman of the Mora County Commission and owner of JACO Outfitters.

"A growing number of America's men and women who served our nation utilize America's public lands as a tool for reintegration upon their return from grueling deployments overseas. These are lands that America's veterans frequent with family and friends to find peace and solace after their time at war," the Vet Voice Foundation wrote in a letter endorsing the bill. "The model of a national preserve has a proven track record and was created specifically for places such as Valles Caldera where there is high visitor demand, outstanding cultural and natural value and where hunting and fishing are mandated."