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Commission opposes transfer of Valles Caldera National Preserve

The New Mexico Game Commission voted unanimously Aug. 22 to direct the Department of Game and Fish to oppose legislation that would transfer management of the Valles Caldera National Preserve to the National Park Service.

The discussion about U.S. Senate Bill 285, prompted by a similar vote May 23, gave the public an opportunity to comment about the future management of the preserve. Representatives from both sides of the issue spoke to the commission about the use of the Valles Caldera and its importance.

Some members of the public, and the commission, were worried that language within the bill could negatively affect wildlife management, sport hunting, fishing and trapping on the 89,000-acre preserve.

More than 20 conservation organizations oppose the bill and have expressed concerns about the National Park Service’s ability to manage wildlife.

The preserve currently is managed by the Valles Caldera Trust to provide increased public access and to allow for many uses, including hunting and fishing.

After a full public discussion, state game commissioners instructed Game and Fish Director Jim Lane to contact bill sponsors Sen. Tom Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich regarding potential alternatives to the transfer of the Valles Caldera.

In a previous letter to the senator, Lane expressed concerns that transfer of the property to the National Park Service “will result in increasing conflict over management authority, a poorly managed elk population, lost hunting opportunity and increased conflicts with adjacent landowners.” He cited vague language in the bill regarding wildlife management authority and fishing and hunting opportunities, and his concerns that the National Park Service objective is resource preservation at the expense of conservation and recreation.
The State Game Commission is composed of seven members who represent the state’s diverse interests in wildlife-associated recreation and conservation. Members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Current members are Chairman Scott Bidegain, vice chairman Thomas “Dick” Salopek, Tom Arvas, Bill Montoya, Robert Espinoza Sr., Paul Kienzle and Ralph Ramos.