Mark Stinnett’s Letter

September 14, 2005

Carson National Forest
ATTN: Valle Vidal Plan Amendment
208 Cruz Alta Road
Taos, NM 87571

The Philmont Staff Association is pleased to submit the following comments regarding the proposed amendments to the Carson National Forest Plan for the Valle Vidal.

The Philmont Staff Association

The Philmont Staff Association is a non-profit organization of more than 2,200 current and former members of the staff of Philmont Scout Ranch, the national high adventure base of the Boy Scouts of America. Our members, who come from every state in the country, all have served at one time or another on the Philmont staff, helping to provide the program for some of the more than 800,000 Scouts and adult leaders who have attended Philmont since its founding in 1938. Those members include many individuals who have hiked and camped in the Valle Vidal with Scout crews, who have supervised the conservation projects performed by those Scouts for the Forest Service, who have literally lived for an entire summer in one of the staffed camps operated there by Philmont, who know first-hand the land, its wildlife, its vegetation, and its promise.

The members of our association and other former members of the Philmont staff are leaders in their communities, their businesses, their churches, and our government. Our membership includes former members of Congress, current and former chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies, small business owners, attorneys, physicians, artists, writers, newspaper publishers, farmers, bankers, ranchers, government officials, union members, rank and file laborers, and literally people from all walks of life. Our members come from a wide variety of political beliefs, faiths, economic backgrounds, and personal viewpoints. We are united by our shared bond of thousands of years of collective service to the youth of America through the programs of Philmont Scout Ranch, and by our profound respect and caring for the mountains, the history, and the people of Philmont and northern New Mexico.

These comments are submitted on behalf of the Philmont Staff Association and its collective membership only. This letter should not be construed as an official position statement by Philmont Scout Ranch or the Boy Scouts of America. The Philmont Staff Association is not a member of or acting in concert with The Coalition for the Valle Vidal or any other group or organization taking a position on issues affecting the Valle Vidal. However, these comments do reflect the formal position of our association as adopted by its Board of Directors, and do reflect the considered judgment of our many hundreds of deeply concerned citizens from across America who have experienced the wonders and riches of the northern New Mexico mountains, valleys, wildlife and streams, including the Valle Vidal.

The Relationship Between the Valle Vidal and Philmont

Philmont Scout Ranch is the largest private camp in the United States and is widely considered to be the premier Scout camp in the world. More than 20,000 Scouts and Scouters from across the United States and several foreign countries travel to Philmont each summer to take a ten-day backpacking trek through Philmont’s remote and rugged mountain Backcountry. Each year, some 30,000 additional Scouts and their leaders end up on a waiting list for the available opportunities to take a Philmont trek.

During their Philmont treks, these high-school aged Scouts, who are organized into crews of seven to twelve, will generally hike 50 to 80 miles at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 12,000 feet. They will learn the art of backpacking and the techniques of “Leave No Trace” camping. They will participate in a variety of programs at some of the many staffed camps operated by Philmont in the Backcountry, ranging from “living history” programs like lumbering, gold mining, Western ranching and fur trapping to modern-day activities such as rock climbing and rappelling, mountain search and rescue, astronomy and challenge courses. Most importantly, they will learn to meet challenges, to work as a team, to overcome adversity, to push themselves physically and mentally, to grow spiritually and gain self-confidence. It is often said of Philmont that “boys come, men leave.” The Philmont program is unique in the United States and in the world.

The Valle Vidal has now become a vital part of the Philmont program and Philmont’s ability to provide this experience to the youth of America. More than 2,000 Philmont participants hike and camp in the Valle Vidal each summer under the terms of special use permits that date back more than fifteen years. With the permission of the Forest Service, Philmont operates three staffed camps and a trail camp in the eastern portion of the Valle Vidal. In return for this privilege, the Philmont staff provides program opportunities for other Valle Vidal visitors, and each Scout hiking in the Valle Vidal performs three hours of conservation work under Philmont staff supervision for the benefit of the Forest Service.

The “Philmont experience” in the Valle Vidal is the same as that experience on Philmont itself: hiking and camping in a mountain environment, observing wildlife in its natural environment, appreciating the beauty of vast meadows, mountain vistas, clear skies and billions of stars, learning self-reliance and overcoming difficult obstacles. There are precious few places remaining in the United States where young men and women can experience the challenges, the history, and the benefits of a place like Philmont. Because of its own innate qualities, its boundary with Philmont, and the relationship that has developed over many years, the Valle Vidal is one such place.

Our Position

The Philmont Staff Association strongly supports the continuation of the tremendously beneficial partnership that has been forged between Philmont Scout Ranch and the U.S. Forest Service in the Valle Vidal. To that end, the Philmont Staff Association believes that the Valle Vidal should continue to be managed with a primary emphasis on wildlife management, stream preservation, limited human development, maintenance of scenic beauty, and recreational opportunities. The Philmont Staff Association accordingly endorses and supports the “Vision” and “Management Highlights” for the Valle Vidal set forth in the Forest Service’s proposed amendment to the Carson National Forest’s Forest Plan.

We have carefully studied the Forest Service’s proposed Standards and Guidelines for the Valle Vidal (Management Area 21) and would add the following comments to our endorsement:

  • We strongly support the proposed standards for seasonal and area closures, roads, and recreation. These guidelines are consistent with previous use of the Valle Vidal and will assure its continuation as a natural wildlife habitat free from excessive interference from human activities, while still providing ample opportunity for recreational use of the land by riders, hikers, campers and outdoor enthusiasts.
  • We strongly support the Forest Service’s plan to provide protections for Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. Members of our association, working with the management of Philmont Scout Ranch and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, have been personally and actively involved in restoration of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout’s native habitat in the Ponil watershed.
  • We support and commend the Forest Service for its designation of the “Upper Ponil Botanical Area” and the special protections called for there. We support the proposal to provide designated trails to reduce the impact on botanical resources. The beneficial use of designated trails in such areas has been clearly demonstrated at Philmont Scout Ranch for many years.

With respect to the proposed Standards and Guidelines for minerals, however, the Philmont Staff Association must take exception to the Forest Service proposal, insofar as it leaves open the possibility of oil and gas development in the eastern portion of the Valle Vidal. This portion of the Valle Vidal, generally comprising the area east of the Rock Wall, is the precise area used by thousands of Philmont campers each summer. The Philmont Staff Association is firmly opposed to opening the Valle Vidal for coal bed methane gas exploration because such operations will, of necessity, destroy all that enables the Valle Vidal to be a part of the “Philmont experience.” That experience comes from the ability of those Scouts to hike and camp in natural surroundings, not an environment that is substantially impacted by roads, wellheads, pump stations, pipelines, power lines, and pump jacks.

Quite simply, permitting oil and gas operations in the Valle Vidal will end its ability to be a meaningful part of Philmont’s program. Even the most stringent environmental protections cannot prevent the sensory impact that will occur for anyone hiking or camping in a mineral development area. One has only to look to the adjacent Vermejo Park Ranch to see what impact even well-policed and supervised gas production will have. Pump jacks and piping, though painted in friendly colors, are still visible and stand out as a reminder of man’s presence in the otherwise natural environment. Roads that must necessarily be put in place to service the wells cut through otherwise lush mountain meadows, with smaller roads leading to individual well sites like spokes on a bicycle wheel. Power lines to supply the necessary electricity for drilling and production stand out against the otherwise clear skies. Noise from pumping stations necessary to re-inject water removed during the drilling process can be heard all day long from more than a mile away.

The simple fact is that, however well-intentioned a drilling operator may be, its operations will disrupt the natural beauty and solitude that makes the Valle Vidal what it is and provides so much of Philmont’s ability to offer the “Philmont experience” there. The Philmont Staff Association firmly believes that, when considering the energy needs of our country and the potential resource that exists beneath the Valle Vidal, the balance should be struck in favor of preserving the Valle Vidal as it is and maintaining its ability to contribute to the Philmont experience. Our reasoning on this point is simple: The Valle Vidal is not the only place in the United States, or the world, where coal bed methane gas can be obtained. Philmont Scout Ranch, and the Valle Vidal’s role in its operation, is the only program of its kind in the United States and in the world. It is one of the few programs that anyone can point to that literally changes and influences people’s lives.

For these reasons, the Philmont Staff Association believes that the program opportunities offered by the Valle Vidal as an adjunct to Philmont Scout Ranch deserve this country’s highest support and protection. We therefore oppose efforts to open the Valle Vidal for gas exploration, and must express opposition to the Forest Service’s plan to consider such a possibility at a later date. We recognize that no decision on proposed coal bed methane exploration in the Valle Vidal has yet been made, and so we urge the Forest Service to recognize that any form of drilling operations in the Valle Vidal will be inconsistent with the Vision, Management Highlights, and Standards and Guidelines that are now being proposed. Our assessment is that any approval for such operations would require amendment of the Forest Plan Amendment now being proposed, and that any such proposed amendment should be rejected.

On behalf of our association, and its members from across America, thank you for your consideration of our views. If we can provide additional information or answer questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sincerely,

Mark A. Stinnett
Co-Chairman, Valle Vidal Task Force
Philmont Staff Association