BLM Calls for Comments on Protection Plans for the Massacre Rocks Area | Cable
While it may sound like it for some recreational users, the Bureau of Land Management has said it is not making politics with the controversial proposed restrictions on the desert lands west of American Falls, commonly known as the Massacre Rocks.
Formerly called the American Falls Archaeological District by the BLM, the area is just north of the Snake River and west of American Falls, across the river from Massacre State Park Rocks.
The public land presents open spaces punctuated by vertical basalt walls. The land is a mosaic of BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, Crown land and private land.
The local BLM Burley office recently released a draft plan outlining five alternatives to address the issue of protecting cultural resources in the region.
Called the Cedar Fields Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the alternatives range from maintaining the status quo to applying restrictions to certain activities in the area, namely rock climbing and the use of off-road vehicles.
The BLM will put together statements on the alternatives until November 10, finalize its plan, and is expected to implement it next year.
The agency said its preferred alternative is to implement the more restrictive plan.
The initial proposal to apply restrictions was presented in 2011, revised in 2017 and 2018, and is now coming to fruition.
The BLM said the timeline was not politically tied to different federal administrations.
“It took a few years,” said Mike Courtney, district manager in the Twin Falls BLM office. “It never went away. We’ve been working on it since it started all those years ago. It was an ongoing thing that is now coming to fruition. “
Courtney said the agency is required by law to protect the cultural resources found in this area because of its historic designation.
“For over 12,000 years the Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute peoples have occupied these lands and the importance of the Archaeological District to these tribes cannot be overstated,” said Courtney. “The BLM is committed to balancing the protection of cultural and sacred values with compatible recreational uses.”
Ken Crane, BLM field manager in Burley, said the BLM favors the more restrictive of alternatives, prohibiting climbing and limiting all-terrain vehicles to a few designated paths.
There are currently about 700 bolted tracks in the area.
Climbers have visited the area for over 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 a closure, we should be doing a lot more to educate and educate the public about where it is appropriate to engage in various forms of recreational use,” Burr said. “I will always fight for increased management of the closure. I think the BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation should take one of the alternatives that lean more towards a management approach rather than a shutdown approach.
Burr said the value of outdoor experiences can be as high for one group as the cultural values for another group.
“I think at times and places the level of meaning that comes from these recreational experiences is as high as any other use of this land,” he said. “And he deserves protection.”
Some local climbers resign themselves to being excluded from much of the region.
“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 the proposed closure of rock climbing in the Massacre Rocks area.
“It’s a lost cause,” Phinney said. “They are eliminating about 75% of the escalation at Massacre.”
Climbing routes will still be available on adjacent public lands owned by the state.
While restrictive for climbing and off-road vehicles, the ban does not prevent horseback riding, hiking, hunting, fishing, camping or grazing livestock.
A resource advisory board made up of representatives from Power County, Bannock County, mountaineering groups and mountain biking groups proposed alternatives opposing recreational closures.
“We have submitted statements on how we have maintained the area and kept it clean,” Phinney said. “They say how we tore it up. We have done a tremendous job to maintain it and keep it clean and not have a big impact on the environment. … We feel insulted because they do not take any of our contributions into consideration. We’ve been climbing it for 32 years. There should be a legacy for climbers, but there isn’t.
Crane said the new restrictions are expected to take effect within a year.
In the meantime, his office hopes to redirect ATV users and climbers to nearby unrestricted opportunities, such as the Lake Channel area, known to climbers as Teddy Bear Cove, so named because the cliffs look like pretty much a teddy bear on Google. Earth maps.
“This is an area where we are trying to redirect people to go to,” Crane said. “It’s a mix of BLM, private and state land. It is very popular. It is a growing interest of climbers, of course, but it is also a very popular area for motorhomes.