massacre rocks climbing

A climber works his way up a vertical wall in the Massacre Rocks area west of American Falls. The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to restrict the federal public land from access by rock climbers and ATV users to protect cultural resources.

Climbers circulate petition to halt closure in Massacre Rocks area

As the deadline for public comment on a controversial Bureau of Land Management plan to restrict some recreation on public land near American Falls approaches, some rock climbers are hustling to get the word out.

The area commonly called Massacre Rocks is an area north of Massacre Rocks State Park and the Snake River and west of American Falls. Formerly called the American Falls Archaeological District by the BLM, the land is a mosaic of BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, state land and private land.

The BLM Burley Field Office released a draft plan in August presenting five alternatives to addressing the issue of protecting cultural resources on the federal land in the area. Called the Cedar Fields Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the alternatives range from keeping the status quo to applying restrictions to certain activities in the area, namely rock climbing and off-highway vehicle use. The BLM will gather statements on the alternatives until Nov. 10, finalize their plan, and are expected to implement it sometime next year. It stated its preferred alternative is to implement the most restrictive plan.

The most restrictive plan does not prohibit cattle grazing, hiking, horseback riding or camping.

Lisa Kuscu, a founding member of the East Idaho Climbing Coalition, has been circulating a petition for people to sign in hopes of getting the attention of the BLM. She and other coalition members also invited staff of Idaho’s Congressional delegation to take a tour of Massacre Rocks last week to familiarize them with the issue and perhaps wins some allies for their cause of keeping climbing access to the public land. Currently there are about 700 bolted climbing routes across the 7,000-acre area. Rock climbers have been visiting the area for more than 30 years.

“We showed them the area and talked about the problem that we see associated with this,” Kuscu said. “We took them to a bolted wall. And said ‘Here’s an example of what climbs look like.’ The BLM has said that we were causing de-vegetation and we wanted to show them what a climb looks like. … It was a behind the wheel tour.”

Representatives from the lawmakers’ offices said they had plans to contact the BLM office in Burley to learn more about the issue.

“Our office is aware of the proposed changes to recreation use in the Cedar Fields area,” Congressman Mike Simpson’s spokeswoman Nikki Wallace told the Post Register in an email. “We are communicating regularly with stakeholders to gather information and to stay up to date on the BLM’s process.”

The BLM held two open houses recently, one at the American Falls School District office and one virtually online to discuss the proposed alternatives for the area.

The original proposal to apply restrictions was brought up in 2011, rehashed in 2017 and 2018, and is coming to completion now. The BLM said the timing is not politically related to different federal administrations.

“It took a few years,” said Mike Courtney, district manager at the Twin Falls BLM office. “It never went away. We’ve been working on this since it started all those years ago. It was a continual thing that is now coming to fruition.”

Courtney said the agency is obligated by law to protect the cultural resources found in that area because of its historical designation.

“For over 12,000 years, the Shoshone, Bannock and Paiute peoples occupied these lands and the significance of the Archaeological District to these tribes cannot be overstated,” Courtney said. “The BLM is committed to balancing protection of cultural and sacred values with compatible recreation uses.”

Ken Crane, BLM field manager in Burley, said the BLM favors the most restrictive of the alternatives, banning rock climbing and restricting off-highway vehicles to a few designated paths.

Ben Burr, policy director for Blue Ribbon Coalition/ShareTrails said with proper management, the BLM could protect what needs protecting and still allow plenty of recreation.

“I think that before we entertain something like a closure, we should do a whole lot more to inform and educate the public about where it’s appropriate to engage in various forms of recreational use,” Burr said. “I always will fight for increased management over closure. I think the BLM and Bureau of Reclamation should adopt one of the alternatives that leans more toward a management approach rather than a closure approach.”

Burr said the value of the outdoor experiences can rank as high to one group as cultural values to another group.

“I think that in certain times and places the level of meaningfulness that comes from these recreation experiences is as high as any other uses of these lands,” he said. “And it deserves protection.”

Although only recently circulated on a few social media sites, Kuscu’s petition had 407 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

To find a copy of the petition, go to bit.ly/Massacre_Rocks.

For information or to submit comments on the Cedar Fields Draft Environmental Impact Statement, go online to bit.ly/Draft_EIS.

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