Valles Caldera Elk Licensing Enhanced

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Elk hunting licenses for the Valles Caldera National Preserve will be issued through New Mexico's public big game drawing in 2004, the State Game Commission decided Nov. 13 at a meeting in Albuquerque.

Previously, authorizations to purchase the majority of mature bull or either-sex licenses valid on the Preserve were issued by the Valles Caldera Trust through its own lottery and the state's nonresident-resident quota system did not apply. For two years, residents competed equally for access authorizations with hunters from across the United States.

With the state conducting the drawing, New Mexico residents now will receive 78 percent of the Valles Caldera (Unit 6B) licenses and nonresidents will receive 22 percent split between those who use outfitters (12 percent) and those who do not (10 percent).

To be eligible to apply for 2004 Unit 6B elk hunts, license applicants must first purchase at least one access- agreement coupon from the Valles Caldera Trust. The non-refundable coupons are $25 each, payable to the Valles Caldera Trust. There will be no limit to the number of coupons individuals may purchase.

The Trust will give those who buy coupons a distinct drawing application. Those applications, along with the appropriate license and application fees, should be submitted directly to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Special Hunts Section. Only one Valles Caldera Trust application may be submitted, but each access coupon purchased will represent an additional opportunity to draw a license.

Big game applicants also will be allowed to submit an application for other public land elk hunts. The state will conduct the 2004 Unit 6B drawing prior to the other public-land elk hunt drawing and successful applicants will be removed from consideration for other elk licenses. Unsuccessful applicants for either Unit 6B hunts or other public land hunts will receive a refund of the New Mexico license fee portion submitted with the applications, minus $6 application fees.Gary Ziehe, executive director of the Valles Caldera Trust, said the board of trustees supports this approach as a "temporary" solution.

"We appreciate the Commission's affirmation of the Preserve as a unique place under a unique management structure. We've worked with the Commission and Department to ensure that hunting will continue on the Preserve in 2004. Over the next year, we will continue to work closely with the Department to improve the hunting program on the Preserve and to more completely understand the Jemez Mountains elk herd and how best to manage it.

"We must continue to work together to create a consistent approach to meet our mutual goals for better wildlife management in this region of New Mexico," Ziehe said.

The Valles Caldera Trust generated approximately $350,000 in gross revenues through elk hunting with its previous system. Money generated helps provide for quality elk hunts, including those offered to youth and mobility-impaired hunters, as well as provide a high level of hunter success. The hunting program also helps contribute to a Congressional directive that the Trust become financially self-sufficient.

The new system applies to all 6B elk hunts. In the past, antlerless hunts went through the state draw only and did not require participation in the Valles Caldera Trust lottery system.

Alfredo Montoya, vice chairman of the State Game Commission, said the state was merely fulfilling its mandate by making the licensing process more open to the New Mexico public. The new system also eliminates a $150 use fee previously charged by the Trust. Now the $25 access coupon is the only fee charged by the Caldera. "We have a responsibility to the taxpayers and the residents of the state," Montoya said. "And I am glad the fees are not so high the average person can't apply."

Dale Jones, a retired U.S. Forest Service biologist representing The Wildlife Society, said the Caldera represents a new paradigm in public lands management. "We have got to figure out a method so that elk management can be funded to the point where it will work," Jones told the Commission.

More information on the upcoming hunting season will be available in New Mexico's Rules and Information Booklet, available at in December, and also via the Valles Caldera Trust web site ­­ early in January.