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Will Congress fund newest national forest?

Baca Ranch
If Congress approves funding, the public may get to experience the ranch's beauty and serenity within two years  

From Correspondent
Charles Zewe

SANDOVAL COUNTY, New Mexico (CNN) -- About 95,000 acres of rolling New Mexico grasslands and evergreens are poised to become the newest U.S. national forest -- if Congress approves the $101 million it will take to buy them.

President Clinton announced in his radio address Saturday that an agreement has been reached to preserve the huge tract, home to one of the world's largest wild elk herds. But the president said the arrangement cannot be implemented until Congress approves funding.

Clinton lamented that Congress failed to provide even half of the $1 billion he had recommended for such acquisitions.

Saving the environment

Andrew Dunigan, whose father bought the tract in 1962 for $2.5 million, said "the prospect that the American public might have the benefit to enjoy the property the way we have is very gratifying."

CNN's Charles Zewe reports on the debate over conservation and enterprise at the Baca Ranch in New Mexico
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The panoramic ranch was created by a volcanic eruption more than a million years ago. The rim of the extinct volcano can still be seen in mountains circling the valley.

The property is home to abundant wildlife, trout streams and the big elk herd. The U.S. Forest Service predicts the Baca would attract anglers, hikers and campers in summer as well as cross country skiers in winter.

The ranch would also remain open to a small group of hunters willing to pay $10,000 each for a chance to shoot a trophy elk.

President Clinton announced Saturday an agreement to preserve New Mexico's Baca Ranch, "home to one of the largest herds of wild elk anywhere in the world"  

Under a tentative proposal, the Baca would continue to be operated by a board of trustees as a self-sustaining, working ranch. But that proposal is controversial among environmentalists.

Among the worries is that this could lead to pressure to clearcut forests.

"We should not be managing the ranch for money," said Dave Simon of the National Parks and Conservation Association. "We should be managing...for memories and resource quality."

If Congress signs off on the deal, sources predict the public may get to experience the ranch's beauty and serenity within two years. Simon said it "is at the top of the list of the gifts the American public should give itself for the 21st century.

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