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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Idaho Farm Bureau balking at transformation of Craters of the Moon to a national park

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Central Idaho could become a national park under a proposal that has received widespread approval; the lone opponent is the Idaho Farm Bureau. (Idaho Falls Post Register)
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Central Idaho could become a national park under a proposal that has received widespread approval; the lone opponent is the Idaho Farm Bureau. (Idaho Falls Post Register)
By Luke Ramseth Idaho Falls Post Register

The Idaho Farm Bureau is the lone opponent of a proposal to give national park status to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Central Idaho, but the organization has offered scant evidence of how the change could negatively affect agriculture.

Farm Bureau officials worry changing the designation would restrict trucks hauling hay or other agricultural products on highways that run through the national monument. Yet organizers and legislative backers of the name change say they have no interest in pushing legislation that includes such restrictions.

And advocates point out the state, not the National Park Service, controls the land where the highway cuts through the northwestern edge of the park. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a proclamation transferring the strip of highway to Idaho for improvements and realignment, according to a park history timeline.

Advocates say making Craters of the Moon Idaho’s first national park would raise its profile, bringing thousands more tourists each year to struggling towns such as Arco, Carey and Mackay. They argue the only change would be signs and park literature. The Farm Bureau has pushed back, vowing to lobby against legislation and saying it worries about undue federal restrictions under a national park name.

“They don’t trust the federal government, is the bottom line,” said Farm Bureau spokesman John Thompson, speaking of his organization’s membership. He cited Yellowstone National Park’s hay hauling restrictions, which include placing a tarp over the cargo. When asked for other examples of agricultural impacts that might arise under a national park designation, Thompson said he didn’t know.

The Farm Bureau’s concern, he said, is that name-change legislation could “be amended any number of ways” in Congress.

In a 2015 column to “ask the hard questions” about the proposal, the Farm Bureau’s then-president Frank Priestley did not focus on agricultural concerns. He argued Craters didn’t rise to the level of a national park, saying some would “even call it a rock pile.”

Idaho’s congressional delegation says it wants state and local support before taking up the proposal. A Butte County advisory ballot measure in November showed 57 percent of voters supported changing the status to national park. It remains to be seen whether the Idaho Legislature will take the next step and pass a resolution supporting the name change.

State Sen. Jeff Siddoway, a Republican sheep farmer from Terreton, said he will support the name change resolution this session, and that it has a “fairly good chance” of passing. The resolution would pass the Senate “pretty easy,” he predicted, though it could face hurdles in the House.

“I see it as an economic deal with really no downside,” Siddoway said. “There are good-quality answers to those (Farm Bureau) concerns. Whether that will change anyone’s minds or not, I don’t know.”

Siddoway said any concerns that remain for the Farm Bureau would almost certainly be addressed in final legislation changing the name. He said nothing would change about Craters of the Moon management or regulations – only the name would be different.

Idaho’s congressional delegation is “not going to allow any restrictions on transportation of our (agricultural products) around the state,” Siddoway said. “They’re not going to carry legislation – nor would I as a state legislator – that considers anything like that.”

Rep. Van Burtenshaw, a Republican farmer and rancher from Terreton, said he tentatively supports the name-change proposal, as long as he has assurance of no changes to Craters other than the name. The proposal’s backers are looking to him as a possible resolution sponsor in the House.

“I think if we can put to rest those issues – like for example, trucks being diverted because they’re hauling hay – then I think it could probably happen,” he said of the resolution.

Butte County and Idaho Transportation Department officials have discussed the Farm Bureau’s highway concern. Both agencies “do not believe that federal or state agencies will restrict truck shipments of agricultural and petroleum products along the route, should Congress change the preserve from a national monument to a national park,” said Bruce King, an Idaho Transportation Department spokesman.

But what if the Park Service did push to restrict truck traffic? Without seeing a specific proposal, ITD Deputy Attorney General Richard Hart said it’s hard to know what would happen. “Before it’s presented, there’s no way to sink our teeth into what ITD’s reaction would be,” he said.

Craters Superintendent Wade Vagias is not allowed to take a position on the proposal, but he confirmed the 1941 proclamation excludes the highway from the monument. “It’s outside the boundary of today’s monument,” he said, and those backing the name change “have not proposed adding those lands back in.”

Helen Merrill, an Arco chiropractor and one of the name-change organizers, said it doesn’t make sense that the Park Service would all of a sudden desire to place hay shipping or other restrictions on the highway.

“Why have they not had that requirement in the last 50 years?” she said. “(The Farm Bureau) has no answer. They just say, ‘Well, it could happen.’

“Really? This is going to be the one thing you keep harping on, to stop you from having a neutral or positive stance on this? If that’s the only thing you’ve got, that’s pretty damn weak.”

Contact Luke Ramseth at lramseth@postregister.com.

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