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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                        (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
For Immediate Release                                      July 25, 2000


I am very pleased to sign into law S. 1892, the "Valles Caldera Preservation Act." This legislation is the culmination of a gratifying cooperative effort with the Congress, led by Senator Bingaman, Senator Dominici, Representative Udall, and Representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico. Its enactment will permit us to protect over 95,000 acres of unique, irreplaceable land in northern New Mexico -- one of my top conservation priorities -- for future generations to enjoy.

Specifically, this Act authorizes the acquisition and preservation of nearly 95,000 acres in the Valles Caldera, New Mexico. It also permits the sale of about 5,000 acres, containing the headwaters of the Santa Clara Creek, to the Santa Clara Pueblo, to allow the Pueblo to protect its water quality and resource values. A separate title of the bill authorizes the proceeds from the sale or exchange of certain Federal lands identified by the Bureau of Land Management as surplus to be used to purchase and protect other lands with exceptional natural resource values.

The Valles Caldera is at the heart of the Jemez Mountains and is the site of perhaps the greatest of New Mexico's volcanic features. It also is home to a wide range of scenic, wildlife, cultural, and ecological resources, and provides incomparable scenic beauty and recreational potential. The importance of the preservation of the Valles Caldera lies in the unique combination of all of these features in a relatively pristine setting that is nevertheless close by, and accessible to, the people of New Mexico. It has remained intact as a single unit in private ownership since the original land grant in 1860. Known as Baca Ranch, it has been well managed for several decades and is an example of a sustainable working ranch.

The caldera is an enormous depression more than a half-mile deep and 15 miles wide that was created by a volcanic eruption over a million years ago. Secondary volcanic domes arise from the caldera floor to elevations as high as 11,000 feet. Its scenic quality -- a large network of grassland and forested mountains, surrounded by the caldera rim -- does not exist elsewhere in the Southwest. It provides habitat to a broad range of species, including one of the largest elk herds in the continental United States, black bear, mountain lion, Mexican spotted owl, goshawk, peregrine falcon, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Its vegetation reflects a high level of ecological diversity, and includes grasslands, ponderosa pine, spruce, Douglas fir, and aspen.

The Jemez Wild and Scenic River, which originates in the Caldera, as well as the San Antonio, Jaramillo, and La Jara Creeks, all have outstanding fishery resources. Baca Ranch also adjoins the Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument, and its protection will enhance the values of those properties as well.

The special designation of the ranch as the Valles Caldera National Preserve will help ensure the protection of important scenic and natural values. Baca Ranch has been well managed by its current owners, who permit selective grazing, timber harvest, fishing, and hunting -- all in a manner that respects and preserves the underlying resource. The bill creates a unique management structure for this unique property. A Board of Trustees, with each member providing a particular expertise in the range of issues raised by the management of this property, will make decisions about Baca Ranch in a process that fully involves the American public -- the real owners of the land. It is my hope that a member of the Native American community in New Mexico be included on this Board. This legis-lation makes clear that the managers of this property will make resource protection a top priority, and that sustainable multiple uses and financial self-sufficiency will be pursued to the extent consistent with protection of these irreplaceable resources. The Baca Ranch is a working ranch today, and the goal is to make it a model of sustainable practices, ensuring resource protection and providing for public recreational uses.

The purchase of the Valles Caldera is one of the most significant Federal land acquisitions in recent history and is a prime example of what we can achieve through my Lands Legacy Initiative. The permanent funding source for conservation that I am working with the Congress to provide will guarantee that places like the Valles Caldera will not disappear, but will be protected for all to enjoy. The acquisition of this irreplaceable resource has been a top conservation priority for my Administration and many in the Congress. This Act protects a magnificent natural resource for New Mexicans and all Americans, and we can all be proud of this legacy that we leave for generations to come.


                              THE WHITE HOUSE,
                              July 25, 2000.

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