Letters from the West

Gov. Otter says he supports national park status for Craters of the Moon Monument

Hardy backpackers of the Great Rift Expedition make their way up Blacktail Butte in the heart of the wilderness in Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Hardy backpackers of the Great Rift Expedition make their way up Blacktail Butte in the heart of the wilderness in Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he supports changing the original Craters of the Moon National Monument to a national park as long as management of the land doesn’t change.

Otter, speaking to the Idaho Press Club Tuesday, said he was impressed when Arco supporters of the proposal made a presentation to him at a Capitol For a Day event in Swan Valley in 2015. He spoke of the legislation that Rep. Mike Simpson passed to protect hunters and agriculture in the expanded national monument and preserve in 2001.

“If you don’t change those kind of things, but you change the name so that you can enhance people’s desire to come here, I wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Otter said.

Butte County is spearheading the effort to turn the 54,000-acre monument managed by the National Park Service into a national park with no changes to management. President Bill Clinton expanded it in 2000 — from 54,000 acres to 753,000 acres. Congress shored up the addition and ensured areas outside the original monument boundaries would be open to hunting. But Craters stayed a national monument.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, has supported a resolution in the Idaho Legislature in favor of national park status that passed the Senate in 2015. He’s expected to bring it back again this year.

The bill has such wide support from otherwise skeptical rural counties because supporters believe it will bring more visitors and capital investment to the Arco area, which is struggling to hold on to its school and hospital. But that issue didn’t convince the Idaho Farm Bureau, which has stubbornly remained opposed.

The bureau questioned if somehow the National Park Service might be able to add restrictions to U.S. 20, which that runs through the monument. But Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation in 1941 that transferred a strip of highway in the monument to Idaho, leading to the improvement and realignment of the roadway.

Even when that issue was cleared up, the Idaho Farm Bureau remained opposed, despite the 57 percent citizen support in an advisory vote in 2016.

The 700,000-plus acres Clinton added to the monument are under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, and would remain so under the proposal. Access to grazing and hunting would remain the same.

Craters of the Moon’s volcanic lava flows, which come from eruptions that occurred in just the past 10,000 years, cover hundreds of square miles, giving it the appearance of a lunar landscape. Apollo astronauts trained there in the 1960s; even today, NASA is conducting research to aid future space missions.

On May 2, 1924, Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Craters of the Moon as a national monument using the Antiquities Act of 1906. It came after a campaign that began in the pages of the Idaho Statesman by Robert Limbert, a taxidermist, guide, trick-shooter and roper.

His three-page story and photo spread about his 1920 expedition in the Idaho Sunday Statesman on April 10, 1921, was followed by a June expedition sponsored by the Statesman. That led to the “Among the Craters of the Moon” article in National Geographic in 1924, which convinced Coolidge to set the area aside.

“This area contains many curious and unusual phenomena of great educational value and has a weird and scenic landscape peculiar to itself,” Coolidge said.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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