Web Newsletter Dec 2000

In May 2000, the Bandelier area suffered a catastrophic fire started as a prescribed burn by Bandelier fire staff. The fire ultimately burned over 48,000 acres on the eastern flank of the Jemez Mountains. Over 400 families lost their homes in neighboring Los Alamos. Bandelier superintendent Roy Weaver accepted responsibility for the fire and took early retirement. Several members of his staff were moved to other assignments.

In November, newly appointed superintendent Dennis Vasquez took office at Bandelier. Dennis started in the National Park System at White Sands National Monument at age 18. In only two weeks, Dennis says, he had found his calling and determined to make the Park Service his career. He is eloquent about the value of the national parks as the repository of the history, culture, and landscapes of our country - the heart and soul of America. Dennis subsequently worked at Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Sunset Crater. He was chief naturalist at Big Bend and was natural resource training manager at the Grand Canyon training center before becoming superintendent at White Sands, where his career had begun many years before.

Despite the sad events of the spring and the massive fire recovery efforts still in progress, Dennis is enthusiastic about the opportunities at Bandelier. The National Park Service has set up a program to establish 13 Learning Centers located throughout the country. Dennis hopes to have one of the centers at Bandelier. The centers are intended to focus on history, culture, and ecology. With major fires in the area in 1977, 1996, and 2000, there is great potential for education on fire effects in Southwestern forests. The duties of the Bandelier superintendent include membership on the board of the newly acquired Valles Caldera National Preserve, often called the Yellowstone of the West. Dennis relishes the opportunity to help set up the management practices of the preserve and sees excellent learning opportunities in the combined Bandelier/Valles area.

Bandelier is recognized as a leader in science-based resource management. Dennis intends to retain that leadership with the help of his committed staff. Many issues face the park, including management of Bandelier's upper watershed, presently owned by the Forest Service; an elk population explosion; introduction of big horn sheep and possibly wolves; preservation of a small mountain lion population; erosion control in the pinyon-juniper areas of Bandelier's Wilderness; continued cooperation with neighboring pueblos on issues arising from the Native American Graves Protection Act; aging and cramped administrative facilities; continued involvement with the multiagency task force formed to deal with the fire; and outreach to the community. Life for Dennis certainly won't be dull!

The Cerro Grande Fire devastated many lives in Los Alamos. The community, the state, even the country are rallying to help rebuild the lives of the people who lost their homes. The Park Service devoted much time, money, personnel, and resources within its areas of expertise to the recovery efforts. A legacy of the fire is lingering resentment against the Park Service and animosity against the concept of prescribed burns in the nation's forests. Dennis realizes that the best way to regain good will is to continue in the best way possible the tasks at Bandelier entrusted to the Park Service by the American people

Throughout the controversies surrounding it, Bandelier remains a beautiful and wild land, serenely sheltering its ancient ruins and the animals and plants of its high mesas and narrow canyons.

Its friends remain faithful.