Letters from the West

UPDATE: Craters of the Moon resolution hits snag in House, sponsor says it’s dead for this year

A resolution calling for turning the original Craters of the Moon National Monument into a national park that passed the Senate Wednesday was held up in the House. Its sponsor, Rep. Merrill Beyeler, said it’s dead for this year.

Beyeler said the resolution was sent to the Ways and Means Committee, which means it’s dead because the session is nearly over. Several groups still had questions, including the Idaho Farm Bureau, that could not be resolved in time, he said.

“There’s some furniture that needs to be rearranged so everyone has a place to sit,” said Beyeler, a Republican rancher from Leadore who represents Butte County, where the monument is located.

The Senate resolution, which is based on a resolution passed by the Butte County Commission, had 32 co-sponsors in the House and the Senate including Republican Rep. Brent Crane, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel. It calls for turning the 54,000 acres of the national monument’s original area — created in 1924 by Calvin Coolidge — into a national park with no changes to management.

The county hopes the upgrade would turn Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve into a destination instead of an afterthought for Yellowstone National Park visitors.

The bill passed the Senate on a voice vote.

The idea to turn Craters of the Moon into a park has been around a while. In the 1980s, then-U.S. Rep. Richard Stallings introduced a bill to elevate the monument and expand its borders.

President Bill Clinton did expand 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.

Butte County’s proposal would change the name to Craters of the Moon National Park and Preserve.

The 700,000-plus acres Clinton added 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.