Sheepmen question impact on future grazing- National monument expanded rom 54,000 to more than 754,000 acres

Capital Press Staff Writer


RUPERT, Idaho — Sheep producers in south-central Idaho are waiting to see how a huge expansion of the Craters of the Moon National Monument will affect their operations.

The federal government has been in the process of developing a management plan for the area ever since former President Bill Clinton in November 2000 authorized an expansion from 54,000 acres to more than 754,000 acres.

While some groups want to see greater public access to the rugged high-desert area, ranchers who hold public grazing permits, are leery.

“I don’t want to see it over-developed,” said Henry Etcheverry, a member of the Minidoka Grazing Association and the newly elected president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association.

Most of the rugged landscape that comprises the monument area is still remote and undeveloped, with only one paved road across the northern end near Carey and Arco.

Development of new roads, trails or visitors centers isn’t something that members of the grazing association believe is appropriate for the area.

“It’s a desert. It’s a rattlesnake-ridden desert,” Etcheverry said.

Traditional livestock grazing has continued on the sagebrush-and-grasslands portion of the monument area that is administered by the BLM.

About 60,000 to 75,000 head of sheep belonging to members of the Minidoka Grazing Association make use of nearly 350,000 acres of BLM ground in the eastern portion of the monument area. The animals graze the area from April to mid-May before being moved to higher country during the summer.

Ranchers who’ve run livestock in the area for generations want to hold onto those grazing permits.

They fully expect to do that under the Bush administration, but they worry that another administration down the road could change the rules and prohibit all grazing within the national monument’s boundaries.

Public lands grazers have been misled before on the issue, Etcheverry said.

They believed they had an understanding with former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt that any expansion of Craters would be confined to the western side of the lava beds and would exclude the BLM grazing allotments.

But that’s not the way things worked out.

“Promises have been broken,” said Etcheverry, whose operation includes nearly 7,000 ewes. “I’m skeptical of the long-term honoring of any agreements ... I worry about the veracity of any more statements.”

Public workshops on the future management of the monument area were recently held in Arco, Carey and Rupert. A proposed management plan will be issued this fall, including any development plans and land use restrictions. The area is jointly managed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Public lands issues remain at the top of the list of concerns for members of the IWGA, Etcheverry said.

Members are concerned about the activities of groups like the Western Watersheds Project which seems determined to remove all livestock from public lands, he said.

“We’re worried about public lands policy and the public perception of public lands grazing,” Etcheverry said.


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