Guest Opinions

Surprise, Secretary Zinke! Idaho wants to upgrade Craters of the Moon, not shrink it

Courtney Washburn.
Courtney Washburn.

It’s hard to believe, but our country’s national monuments are under threat.

On Wednesday, April 25, President Donald Trump signed into law an executive order to “review” our national monuments under the assumption that some of them need to be diminished or liquidated.

Yet in Idaho, we’re going the other direction. Instead of seeking to liquidate our national monument, state lawmakers are pushing to make it Idaho’s first national park.

Established in 1924, expanded in 2000, Craters of the Moon National Monument is 714,000 acres of public land strewn with lava fields that flowed over its windblown, sage-covered surface between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. Beneath it, huge pockets of magma may boil to the surface at any time, turning the ossified landscape into a geologic firework show.

In this latest legislative session, the Idaho Senate passed a joint memorial asking Congress to upgrade Craters of the Moon by giving it national park protection. The memorial passed the Senate with bipartisan support, including members of leadership on both sides of the aisle.

Meanwhile, Trump’s executive order requires Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to “review” all monuments created since 1996. That means Zinke will get to take a long hard look at Idaho’s lone national monument. He’s going to learn that the Idaho Senate voted for it to become a national park, and Idaho’s governor has voiced his support for the transition as well. Meanwhile, people in Butte County are working hard to make that transition a reality.

Across the West, the protection of lands is supported and endorsed by a broad swath of the political spectrum. Even so, some politicians continue to argue that public lands harm the western economy. Their argument just doesn’t stack up.

In the 111 years since the first national monument was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt — Devils Tower in Wyoming — the West has gone from a sparsely populated near-frontier to an economic powerhouse of growth. From 1970 to 2014, the West’s economy grew twice as fast as the rest of the country.

Clearly, our prosperity isn’t predicated on the dismantling of public lands. Quite the opposite. The West has prospered during the same period we have protected our lands.

Craters of the Moon is one of those lands. And the only political movement to get rid of its national monument status is an effort to make it a national park. That’s because land preservation is popular and good for the economy. It’s a theme the Interior Department is bound to discover in its “review.”

Courtney Washburn is the executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho, which is dedicated to protecting our public lands for future generations and works to elect pro-conservation candidates from both parties.