May 3, 2009
An environmental group has placed a $50,000 bid for the right to graze three to five cows on the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve this summer.
But Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians is not getting into the ranching business, it's trying to preserve the area's ecosystem.
The bid, filed just in advance of the deadline, said: "By keeping the preserve nearly free of livestock, you provide more meaningful opportunities for countless members of the general public to engage in recreation, scientific study and aesthetic enjoyment."
The amount of the bid is thousands of dollars more per cow than the normal fees ranchers pay to graze on public lands.
Bryan Bird, who manages conservation programs for WildEarth Guardians, said running only three to five cows on the preserve would guarantee little damage to its ecosystem and require little oversight. He acknowledged the group hasn't managed cows before.
Bird declined to say where the money came from for the bid.
WildEarth Guardians receives private grants and donations and government grants for specific projects.
Last week's bid is the third time WildEarth Guardians has bid on a grazing lease on the preserve in the Jemez Mountains.
The previous two bids were lower and didn't include any cows.
Last year the group's $35,000 bid was rejected in favor of a rancher who grazed 1,680 yearlings on the preserve from June through September and paid $58,000 to the Valles Caldera Trust, which manages the preserve.
The trust's request for proposals specifies a minimum of 500 animals per month.
Bird thinks the trust has no legal basis for setting a minimum number of cows.
"Can they legally reject bids that do not include livestock?" he said.
The minimum number is a guarantee for a livestock producer and helps them decide if it is worth bidding, said Terry McDermott, the preserve's communications director.
It doesn't preclude accepting a bid to graze fewer cows, he said.
The preserve has allowed some kind of livestock grazing every year, but has lost money on the venture except in 2008.
The conservation group has leased almost 6,000 acres of grazing rights on state land in Arizona and New Mexico with no livestock involved. Instead, the group restores riparian habitat.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com