Though it may look like it to some recreational users, the Bureau of Land Management said it didn’t play politics with the proposed controversial restrictions on the desert land west of American Falls, commonly known as Massacre Rocks.
Formerly known as the American Falls Archaeological District by the BLM, the area is north of the Snake River and west of American Falls, across from Massacre Rocks State Park. The public land has open spaces interrupted by vertical basalt rocks. The land is a mosaic of BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, state land and private land.
The BLM Burley field office released a draft plan last week outlining five alternatives for protecting the region’s cultural resources. In the Cedar Fields Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the alternatives range from maintaining the status quo to restricting certain activities in the region, namely climbing and off-highway vehicle use. The BLM will collect comments on alternatives by November 10, finalize a plan, and likely implement that plan sometime next year. The agency said their preferred alternative is to implement the most restrictive plan.
The BLM will also hold two open days in the coming weeks. The first is a personal open house in the American Falls School District office, Room 4, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. August 31. The second is a virtual meeting online from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. September 14th. Email blm_id_monumentcassiarmpamend @ blm .gov how to join the online forum.
The original proposal to apply restrictions was presented in 2011, revised in 2017 and 2018 and is now being implemented. The BLM said the timing was not politically related to various federal administrations.
“It took a couple of years,” said Mike Courtney, district manager for the Twin Falls BLM office. “It never went away. We’ve been working on it since it started all those years ago. It was a continuous thing that is now bearing fruit. “
Courtney said the agency was legally required to protect the cultural resources found in the area because of its historical designation.
“The Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute peoples occupied this land for over 12,000 years, and the importance of the archaeological district to these tribes cannot be overestimated,” said Courtney. “The BLM is committed to reconciling the protection of cultural and sacred values with compatible recreational uses.”
Ken Crane, BLM field manager in Burley, said the BLM preferred the most restrictive of the alternatives, banning climbing and restricting ATVs to a few designated paths. There are currently around 700 bolted routes in the area. Climbers have been visiting the area for more than 30 years.
Ben Burr, Policy Director for Blue Ribbon Coalition / ShareTrails, said that with proper management, the BLM could protect what needs to be protected while still allowing plenty of recreation.
“I think before we consider something like closure, we should do a lot more to educate and educate the public about where it is appropriate to engage in various forms of recreational use,” said Burr. “I will always fight for more management because of the closure. I think the BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation should adopt one of the alternatives that is more of a management approach than a closure approach. “
Burr said the value of outdoor experiences could be rated as high for one group as cultural values for another group.
“I think that at certain times and in certain places the importance of these recreational experiences is as important as any other use of this land,” he said. “And it deserves protection.”
Some local climbers have resigned themselves to being excluded from much of the area.
“I don’t think we can do anything about massacre,” said Vernon Phinney of the East Idaho Climbers Coalition. The group was formed in response to proposed climbing development in the Massacre Rocks area. “It’s a lost cause. They eliminate about 75% of the climbing at Massacre. “
Climbing routes will continue to be available on adjacent state-owned public land.
While the ban is limited to climbing and ATVs, the ban does not prevent them from riding, hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, or grazing. A resource council – made up of representatives from Power County, Bannock Counties, rock climbing groups, and ATV groups – suggested alternatives to closing recreational facilities.
“We made statements about how we maintained and kept the area clean,” said Phinney. “They say how we tore it apart. We have done a lot of work to maintain and keep it clean and not have a major impact on the environment. … We feel offended because they ignore our input. We have been climbing there for 32 years. There should be a legacy for climbers, but there isn’t one. “
Crane said the new restrictions are expected to go into effect within a year. Meanwhile, his office hopes to redirect ATV users and climbers to nearby opportunities without restrictions, such as the Lake Channel area known by climbers as Teddy Bear Cove, and so named because of the cliffs on Google Earth maps look roughly like a teddy bear.
“This is one area we want to redirect people to,” said Crane. “It’s a mix of BLM, private and state land. It’s very popular. It’s a growing interest from climbers, of course, but it’s also an area that’s very popular with motor vehicles. “
For information or comments on Cedar Fields’ draft Environmental Impact Statement, visit TinyURL.com/3p6d7n5y.
BLM can also be reached by mail at BLM Burley Field Office, 15 East 200 South, Burley, ID 83318.