ARCO, Idaho — Advocates for creating a Craters of the Moon National Park insist their proposal would boost tourism to the scenic Eastern Idaho basalt flows simply by changing the names on signs.
Some local ranchers and Idaho Farm Bureau Federation officials, however, aren’t sold on upgrading the national monument’s status, concerned about new restrictions on grazing and shipping forage, or the possibility that its borders could expand.
A grassroots group supporting the name change, led by Butte County Commissioner Rose Bernal, has been meeting with surrounding county commissions, organizations, agricultural interests and politicians to garner support. The group hopes Congress will act by 2016, in time to benefit from publicity surrounding the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has told the group he’d consider backing their cause if they can produce broad local support. Bernal said the group is about ready to approach the congressional delegation.
The national park would encompass only the original 54,000-acre monument, created by presidential decree in 1924. A 411,000-acre National Park Service preserve and a 273,000-acre Bureau of Land Management portion that allows grazing were added to the monument in 2000.
Since the national park campaign started in April, the Idaho Senate has unanimously approved a resolution in support and a House resolution had strong backing before it was tabled.
The group has also circulated petitions and obtained blessings from the Idaho Association of Counties and all surrounding county commissions but Blaine County. Bernal was scheduled to have another meeting with Blaine County on July 14.
Supporters note Idaho is the only western state without a national park fully contained within its borders. Bernal said she sent a letter about the proposal to every grazing permittee using the monument and hasn’t heard back from any of them.
Idaho Farm Bureau leaders joined Craters Superintendent Dan Buckley on a tour of the monument in late June. Farm Bureau spokesman John Thompson said the organization remains concerned the change could open the door for the federal government to later restrict grazing, or charge a fee for highway access, despite Buckley’s assurances that the highway is state-owned and both scenarios are unlikely.
“They have very good intentions, but good intentions don’t get you that far when you’re dealing with a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” Thompson said. He said Farm Bureau will wait for county chapters to vote on the issue before taking a formal position.
“Every year we see recreation interests putting pressure on grazing, and then the Forest Service or BLM will reduce grazing,” Thompson said.
Sheep rancher Henry Etcheverry opposes the change, worried he’d lose half his herd if his grazing access to the monument were restricted. Etcheverry said he was barred from grazing in the monument’s Bear Park area shortly after the 2000 expansion.
“I don’t trust (the federal government) at all,” Etcheverry said. “I think they would take away our grazing rights.”
Buckley said tourism has increased by roughly 30,000 visitors on average at the last three monuments to become national parks. A 2014 Park Service study shows Craters of the Moon had a $6.6 million economic impact and contributed to 112 local jobs.