WildEarth Guardians is offering the federal government $35,000 dollars to not graze domestic livestock on the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, if past history is an indicator, the money will be refused.
In the aftermath of the largest fire in the state’s recent history, WildEarth Guardians submitted its bid on Thursday the 15th of December for a livestock operation on the Valles Caldera National Preserve that would graze no cows. That is $35,000 to keep the Preserve free of livestock. The focus of the bid is recovery and restoration of the Preserve’s
critical habitats after the Las Conchas fire burned through the National Preserve. WildEarth Guardians has made considerable efforts over the past decade to restore the Preserve’s streamside forests and wildlife habitat and believes the fire’s effects will be beneficial but only with rest from livestock grazing.
By law, the Valles Caldera National Preserve was established to protect and preserve the area's scientific, scenic, geologic, watershed, fish, wildlife, historic, cultural, and recreational values. The Valles Caldera Trust was created to carry out the Preserve's mission and to turn a profit. The Santa-Fe based WildEarth Guardians’ bid could do just that: make money while protecting the Preserve. Guardians believes that the best return on the dollar for the federal government and taxpayers is to accept the $35,000 in return for the privilege to keep cows out of the area and return the streamside habitats to their verdant nature. The group offers its expertise in river restoration to the Preserve in addition to the money.
According to climate models, the Southwest has become, and will continue to become, a drier and warmer place. A symptom of climate change and lingering drought will be larger, more severe fires. Nearly 30,000 acres of the Valles Caldera National Preserve burned this past summer in the Las Conchas Fire. Twenty-five percent of that was in the grasslands in the Preserve's majestic valleys. Grazing domestic livestock places additional stress on already strained hydrological systems, rivers and streams. The Preserve is recovering well by all indications, but returning domestic livestock to the valleys could inhibit recovery.
Cattle have been trespassing into the VCNP for several years as documented by WildEarth Guardians and others. Trespass cows are likely gaining access from the Santa Fe National Forest which borders the Preserve on all four sides. If the VCNP were free of cows under the WildEarth Guardians' plan, the Preserve's staff would have a much easier time identifying and taking possession of trespass cows and fining the owners.
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a gem in a long string of irreplaceable wild places that run from northern Mexico through the Rockies into Canada. With great foresight, the New Mexico congressional delegation set aside the Preserve as protected federal land. The VCNP serves as the headwaters of the Jemez River, a major tributary of the Rio Grande. This system captures and delivers water to untold numbers of municipal, agricultural, and recreational users downstream.
The valleys and forests of the Preserve are simply too valuable to put at risk with a domestic livestock grazing program.