‘Public’ Land or Hungry Hungry Hippos?


Last night’s “listening session” on the Valles Caldera National Preserve offered solid evidence of the problems inherent with collective “ownership.”

Held at the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum — another will occur tonight in Jemez Springs, with the final session in Los Alamos on Wednesday — the meeting took input from New Mexicans who use and do business on the nearly 90,000-acre property, which will shift from being managed by a nonprofit trust to the National Park Service on October 1.

When the event’s facilitator (no word on what taxpayers were billed for her time) asked for participants to name their concerns, the list included horse trails, cross-country skiing, hunting/fishing access, wildlife-watching, camping, elk grazing, cow pastures, management of natural and cultural resources, riparian restoration, multi-use roads, overnight accommodations, building a visitor center, and access for the mobility-impaired.

In the evening’s greatest understatement, Charles Strickfaden, Valles Caldera acting superintendent admitted, “Obviously, some of these comments counter each other.”

The highlight of the event — one that brought hearty chuckles — was when a woman suggested her desire for the “reintroduction of wolves.” In response, a man quickly shouted, “Predator control!”

Government ownership of land means endless squabbling — conflicts between ranchers’ livestock and indigenous creatures, hunting/fishing and “wilderness” preservation, human access and protection of sites said to have cultural/historical/spiritual significance. It’s a lot like the children’s game Hungry Hungry Hippos, with every interest group grabbing as much as they can.

Valles Caldera is an amazing place. But after last night’s gathering, it’s more clear than ever that when “everyone” owns a property, conflicts are unavoidable. Wouldn’t a property-rights-centered approach be better?