Albuquerque Journal: Editorial: Public a winner in hunt for more Valles Caldera access

One of New Mexico’s magnificent pieces of public real estate is a winner in legislation President Obama is expected to sign.

By extension, New Mexicans are winners, too, gaining more access to the breathtaking Valles Caldera for recreation and economic benefits from increased tourism.

Since 2002, the 89,000-acre preserve located inside a volcanic caldera in northern New Mexico has been administered by a presidentially appointed board of trustees. The U.S. government purchased it in 2000 from the Texas-based Dunigan family.

Under terms of the enabling legislation passed by Congress, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act, the trust was charged with operating it as a working ranch, protecting its natural and cultural resources, and providing limited recreational opportunities.

Transfer of management of Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service has been sought by former and current New Mexico congressional delegations. Former Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici sponsored legislation in the past, and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich sponsored current legislation that was wrapped into the defense authorization bill.

“With today’s vote, we are protecting some of the most beloved landscapes in New Mexico,” Udall said when the U.S. Senate passed the bill that included designating the 45,000-acre Columbine-Hondo area in Taos County as wilderness and expanding the Wheeler Peak Wilderness by about 650 acres. Heinrich called its passage historic.

The legislation would mandate increased public access for hunting and fishing, and it’s hoped that access for other recreational uses – such as horseback riding, hiking and picnicking – will be expanded, too.

The transfer puts the preserve in the hands of people with experience managing public lands throughout the country. They should be able to come up with an acceptable mix of public accessibility and conservation.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.