If there is one property that ought to be bought and preserved as public land for all Americans, say Forest Service officials, it's the 95,000-acre Baca Ranch - most of the Valles Caldera - a place almost completely surrounded by the Santa Fe National Forest. So this summer, Forest Service staffer Denise McCaig has been hosting tours of the area for the media, pointing out the 360-degree views that lack any power lines, as well as the presence of the headwaters of one river and two streams.
On one show-me tour, Katie McGinty,
environmental advisor to President Clinton, called the land "a
priceless treasure," while Dave Simon with the National Parks and
Conservation Association said the chance to buy the ranch
represented a "historic conservation opportunity."
But time is growing short. A down payment of $20
million is required by Oct. 1 to stop a sale of the land for
residential development. Money to buy the ranch, however, has not
been authorized for spending from the federal Land and Water
Conservation Fund. The fund was created by Congress in 1964 to buy
choice pieces of land with tax money collected from offshore oil
and gas drilling.
Republican leaders of both the
House and Senate Interior Appropriations committees - Rep. Ralph
Regula of Ohio and Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington - have not
released the money. Regula says he's waiting to see the results of
an almost-completed appraisal. But Regula also says he doesn't
think the fund should be used to buy land, so much as to maintain
That is not what Congress agreed to when it
approved a balanced budget, says Elliot Diringer, who works with
McGinty on the Council on Environmental Quality. Diringer said
President Clinton's wish list of lands to make public featured the
Baca and was compiled after a national review involving federal
Regula, however, says he's
developed his own list based on 400 requests from members of
The writer works in
Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.