‘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?

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7 Replies to “‘Public’ Land or Hungry Hungry Hippos?”

  1. Well put. Thanks for the follow up on the Valles Caldera’s never ending saga.
    Not to mention I believe the original owners were paid some astronomical amount by the Feds to purchase the property. Wonder how that ROI turned out?

    Matt Rawlings

  2. Dowd, thank you for covering. It’s time we start clawing back some of the federal lands to state control, a step on the path to privatizing them.

  3. Well known “Tragedy of the Commons”. What would happen if all the Federal lands in the West were sold to private interests? Perhaps the Feds could pay down the trillions of government debt.

    1. I think the best we can hope for is to “devolve” certain federally-held lands to state control. We need to have more grassroots support for even the study of this as legislation died this year in the Republican-controlled House due to pressure from status quo interest groups.

      1. I agree with Mr. Gessing.

        I have advocated to the groups I associate with, including “Back Country Horsemen”, wildlife advocates, hunters, fishers, sundry outdoor enthusiasts and others that the lands are best managed at the nearest local level.

        At the most recent Nat’l Parks hearing in re the Valles Caldera transfer from Trust to Bureaucracy I again urged participants to reckon for the day when federal funding would no longer be forthcoming. That day fast approaches.

        State control would be much as the State Lands are controlled now, with input and veto by the affected counties. The facts on the ground are the US Forest Service has been operating under an extremely misguided formula of fire suppression for the last 50 [plus] years. The Rangers will tell you privately the conflagrations will continue.

        The Game and Fish would fall under the State’s offices of same.
        New Mexico has the most professional game management agencies in the country.

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