Fremont County will ask voters in November what they think about the creation of an Idaho Caldera National Monument.
The Fremont County Commission decided to add the advisory initiative to the ballot after Tea Party members successfully killed a county backed futures study that included consideration of the monument Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne studied in 2008. Kempthorne studied the area surrounding Mesa Falls after the Idaho Statesman called “Idaho’s Yellowstone” the best national monument nomination readers picked.
The process, sponsored by Fremont County, which had included the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council, conservation groups and the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, had been funded by a Housing and Urban Development grant and the environmental groups.
But Steve Pinther, a candidate for the Fremont County Commission, led an effort to stop the futures study and made it a campaign issue. He lost to Commission Chairman Lee Miller, who also opposed the monument, but the process was scrapped.
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Then a group of Island Park residents led by retired Idaho National Laboratory worker Ken Watts went to the county asking that local voters get a chance to weigh in and the commission agreed. It’s already on the record opposing a national monument designation.
I strongly oppose it because of the fear of the unknown,” said Watts in an interview Saturday.
Watts said President Barack Obama has broad powers to radically change management of the more than 700,000-acre area west of Yellowstone National Park under the Antiquities Act of 1906. He noted that former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has called for protection of the area, which has geothermal resources scientists say are connected to the geothermal features in Yellowstone.
He added that the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016 and might seek national monument protection for the area that includes several calderas and Big Springs.
“Why would I take that kind of risk as a property owner,” Watts said. “I would be nuts to do that.”
But Watts said his opposition to the monument doesn’t mean he’s opposed to some special management for the Island Park Caldera area, which is a popular recreation area especially for snowmobiles in the winter. He and other residents are hoping to form a group to develop a plan for future use.
“We’re not just sitting here opposing something,” Watts said. “We’re looking at how we want to use the caldera and trying to form an organization to convey what we want.”
He’s still talking to the National Wildlife Federation, which had been a part of the futures process.
“We’re trying to develop some trust,” Watts said. “It’s a process.”