Sunday, December 05, 2010

The BACA - Government and Environmental Collusion

By Stephen L. Wilmeth

    What does the Valles Caldera National Preserve Act of 2000 and the Valles Caldera Preservation Act of 2010 have in common?  For starters, how about the fact shenanigans are being played out between the federal government and the Environmental movement in the lame duck session of Congress in the pending Omnibus Bill?
    The famed northern New Mexico Baca Ranch, as the Valles Caldera was once known, was granted to the heirs of Don Luis Maria Cabeza de Vaca in 1860.  Through time, it was ranched, logged, and mined.  Under private ownership it was one of the wonders of northern New Mexico.  Known for its fishing, wildlife, scenery, and cattle it was a beautiful historic property.   
    When its ownership decided to sell the property, the federal government jumped at the opportunity to buy the ranch.  Based on the condition it would remain a working cattle ranch, the private ownership agreed to sell the ranch to the United States.  The Feds stood tall and looked them right in the eye and pledged that their wishes would be honored.  In 2000, the Valles Caldera National Preserve Act (S.3452) was passed, the ranch was purchased, and one of the crown jewels of ranching was added to federal ownership.
    In order to demonstrate the condition of sale, wording was added to the act to uphold the wishes of the sellers and the promise of the buyer.  The ranch would be made profitable within a 15 year period.  To the wary observer, alarm bells should have gone off immediately.  Why would it take 15 years to become profitable when it was profitable at the time of the sale?  Secondly, if it was going to be left a cattle operation, why was it so ceremoniously renamed “Valles Caldera”?
     History will remind us that the federal government agreed that the conditions of the Baca were indeed pristine.  The wording of the Act rambled on about the ranch being a “preserved mix of healthy range and timber land with significant species diversity thereby serving as a model for sustainable land development and use.”       
     In the years since 2000 and the signing of the Act, the Baca has not been profitable, and it shows no sign that it ever will be under the mission and the direction of its board.  It is without surprise that the board has indicated that cattle numbers cannot be brought up to economic levels because of “historical overgrazing, etc, etc.”  What had been a jewel that supported many families and produced abundant food, fiber, and natural resources has become a welfare operation under the federal government. 
     Fast forward to 2010, Senator Bingaman has introduced S.1892, the “Valles Caldera Preservation Act”.  In short, the bill intends to dispense with cumbersome promises, remove the management of the land from the oversight of the Forest Service, and hand it to the Park Service.  Without even suggesting the direction the Baca will now go, Americans should know the Park Service has never operated anything that was self-sustaining.  In fact, the bill calls for $16 million for the change with another $16 million needed within the next five years.  From profitability to welfare state, the great Baca has been swept into the sinkhole of federal land management.
     The Baca is a glaring example of what is right with American and what is wrong.  Under private stewardship the ranch was self sustaining and described as the model for future land management programs.  The mix of wildlife and natural beauty were inspiring to all who saw it.  Its cattle enterprise, mining, and logging had not only sustained it they empowered the level of stewardship that carried it forward to the state that existed (and so glowingly described in the words of the bill) at the time of the sale.  
     Under federal management the promises of profitability and the perpetuation of the historical endeavors are in jeopardy.  In a simple act of Congress, the promise implicit in the bill will forever be erased.  Do not men of integrity know that words mean something?  Aren’t men of Congress bound by any level of promise?
    In the private world, a much more simplistic course of action would have been taken.  If the demand was profitability, the pledge would have been to honor the demand.  If the manager selected for the task failed, he would be fired.  If that manager failed, he would have been fired.  If no manager was capable of performing the charge, the property would have been sold to somebody with enough moxie to bring back historical successes. 
     The problem now under the Federal government is the Valles Caldera board is in conflict with the principle of the mission.  They don’t want cattle, they don’t like cattle, and they have no qualms about breaching any measure of an agreement they have no intention of supporting.  Technically, they are on a path to break the intent of the law and the promise to the seller. They should be replaced.  Their actions should also be investigated, and, if they are found criminally negligent of dereliction of duty, they should be prosecuted.
     If there is a single individual who must hold promises in sacred trust, it must come from the senior senator of the state, Jeff Bingaman.  If he holds such promises in trust, he can be trusted with all matters of his constituency even if they disagree with his position.  If he is complicit in disregarding promises of trust, especially the condition allowing the Baca to come into federal ownership, he cannot be trusted on any matter. 
     The Baca is a microcosm of what ails America today.  It is a matter of integrity in government.  The United States promised in S.3452 the Baca “to be protected for current and future generations by continued operation as a working cattle ranch”.  It pledged to make the operation profitable in 15 years and that promise must be kept.  A prudent senior leader would recognize the importance of such a promise.  The philosophers can suggest the cause and effect, but “One Nation, under God” keeps its promises . . . or it will find leaders who will go to their graves before they corrupt that promise!

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.  “There is honor amongst those too poor to pay for their sport.  Dishonor comes from men who elevate themselves without consent.  We are ‘One Nation, under God’.  We are not one nation under gods.”        


Anonymous said...

To my knowledge, this is the only New Mexico generated objection to the Valles issue. Can't get too far with one objection even if it is the damn truth! But, what is the truth these days anyway?

SSmith said...

Who is the constituency of Jeff Bingaman? It isn't the mining industry. It isn't the cattle or farmer groups. It sure isn't timber because they are gone. It isn't any traditional religious body. It isn't the equipment manufacturers, the converters of raw materials, the water pumpers, or the oil pumpers. There doesn't seem to be any folks who get their hands dirty in his world. I am not sure many of us fit.

betoogoodtome said...

The problem we face is the problem that the founding fathers worried about and that was the cncern of independence. Independence of thoughts and actions without perversion of agendas. The NM senators came from a common heritage of professional public servants, or more appropriately termed consummers of public trust and funding. They don't understand what you are saying, Wilmeth! They have no concept of what you are saying nor do the vast majority of Americans. yours is a road of hope without recourse of change. You have a dilemma.

Wbenton said...

ONE NATION UNDER GOD NOT ONE NATION UNDER gods. I like that. We need to think about what that implies. That sounds like a trumpet call for 2012.

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Elena said...

I've worked at the Caldera as a biology intern and am currently writing an article on it's future if this bill is passed.
I am interested in your statement that the land was profitable at the time of sale. I have not found anything in my research that shows why the Baca location was sold--do you know of any resources that show the fiscal report difference between private ownership of the land and that under the trust?

Though the ranch might have been self-sustaining under private ownership, what public access was there? Who were able to see it at that time? I would love any knowledge you have on this issue as well. Though public access isn't run well at all under the current board, is it more than was available before the sale?

For those interested in looking at this issue further, the bill numbers are actually switched in this article. S. 3452 is the current bill proposal sitting in the Senate; S. 1892 was from 2000