A Craters of the Moon National Park would raise public awareness of the entire Snake River Plain as a fragile ecosystem, and it would provide the political fuel for stronger regulations on grazing, agriculture and water use across Southern Idaho.
And yet, despite the environmental benefits a national park would usher in throughout the region, the Craters park proposal should be rejected. I’ll explain.
National parks are proven catalysts for preservation well beyond their borders. Who would care about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem if there were no Yellowstone National Park?
People who now race across the Snake River Plain on the way to somewhere else would be inspired by the national park name to stop to experience the land and hear its remarkable story. They’d learn that far from being a dry wasteland of lava and sage, the Snake River Plain is a delicate desert ecosystem in need of all the help it can get.
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What’s more, national park designation would reinvigorate efforts across the great swath of Southern Idaho to scale back grazing, halt conversion of wildlife habitat to agriculture, end aquifer pollution by the dairy and nuclear industries, and stop agricultural water depletion.
With the Snake River Plain being a landscape America needs to discover and protect, you’d think a Craters national park would be a great idea. Problem is, there are substantial downsides.
To begin with, the proposal is a corruption of the national park mission. Butte County officials from Arco and folks from Carey are championing the park solely to mine money from tourists, not to protect land and wildlife for future generations. Their No. 1 selling point is that their proposal would evade new protections by rebranding a slice of already preserved land as a national park.
In addition, the park would come up short as a local economic strategy. Aside from gas stations and convenience store munchies, neither Arco nor Carey offers any tourist amenities. Park visitors would bypass the towns after experiencing Craters and take their money, and the many impacts they bestow on communities, elsewhere.
All this isn’t meant to ignore the regional benefits of a Craters of the Moon National Park: By getting the American public and federal policymakers to recognize and embrace a Greater Snake River Plain Ecosystem, the park would do more to protect and restore Southern Idaho than the previous decades of struggles and lawsuits.
Even so, the Craters proposal isn’t worth it. Making national parks shrines to money is a betrayal of one of the nation’s great ideals.
John Kelley is a former legislative policy analyst and a resident of Sun Valley.