Farm Bureau defends climbers as BLM limits access
Farm activists fear ranching activity could be targeted
By JOHN O'CONNELL
POCATELLO, Idaho -- The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation has come to the aid of Southeast Idaho rock climbers who scale the crags on Bureau of Land Management property near Massacre Rocks State Park.
In mid-August, the BLM announced its intent to ban rock climbing in the popular recreation area along the Snake River west of American Falls, called Cedar Fields. The BLM voiced concerns that climbing is adversely impacting cultural resources on the cliffs, which are protected under the National Register of Historic Places.
John Thompson, director of information for the Idaho Farm Bureau, said cattle graze in the area and could also be deemed a risk to the cultural resources.
"We're going to submit a public comment because we have concerns about picking any specific user group out of the mix. You never know. Next time it might be us," Thompson said. "We've been out there with them, and they're not hurting anything."
Heather Tiel-Nelson, BLM spokeswoman for the Twin Falls district, said the cultural resources, most of which are located by the bases of the cliffs, were assessed in the mid-1990s.
"Cedar Fields is known to have been seasonally occupied for 12,000 years. The cliff areas were heavily used for shelter," she said.
A reassessment conducted in August found degradation to a number of the resources, Tiel-Nelson said. She said in some cases, climbers have trampled vegetation, resulting in exposure and weathering of the artifacts.
Public meetings are scheduled on the issue, each lasting from 5-7 p.m., on Sept. 26 at Pocatello City Hall, Sept. 28 at the Best Western Hotel in Burley and Oct. 12 in American Falls at the Power County Historical Museum building.
Tiel-Nelson said the discussions will focus on climbing, camping and trail building on the land.
She said the impacts of cattle could potentially come up when the Cedar Fields grazing permit is up for renewal, but "we're not seeing any impacts from livestock on those archaeological sites."
Farm Bureau members Lisa Safford and Troy Neu, who are both Pocatello business owners, brought the issue to Thompson's attention.
In Neu's opinion, youths throwing parties involving target shooting and trash piles comprise the only user group posing a problem at the site. He's found that climbers are always quick to pick up litter.
"To me it's just a natural step in the process to say, 'Gosh, we've got to limit cattle also.' It's public land for crying out loud, and that's my main concern, that it remains public land," Neu said.
Safford has sought allies among horseback riders, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and ranchers to support the climbers. The area that would be closed to climbing includes 16 walls and 162 routes with prime access, she said.
"I approached Farm Bureau Federation because I think it's only a matter of time that agricultural uses also get targeted for elimination," Safford said. "There are cattle that graze there. As far as I can tell, there's no problem there, and as far as I can tell, there's no problem with climbers there either."