Friday, April 18, 2008

Manager backs plan to let cattle graze in E. Idaho park

AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- The manager of a popular state park in eastern Idaho has proposed letting cattle graze there again, arguing it will make the park more like it was when it was a stop on the Oregon Trail by eliminating invasive plants and allowing native plants to return.

Kevin Lynott, manager of Massacre Rocks State Park, said cattle would churn up the ground while also fertilizing it, replicating the effect bison had before they were killed off more than a century ago.

"You can't do nothing," he said. "The land can't restore itself to a natural state without intervention. This was a grassland habitat, and a grassland habitat was here because of the natural tendencies that were here."

Ryan Walz, right of way supervisor for the Idaho Department of Transportation, opposes the plan.

"I was raised on a cattle ranch," he told the Idaho State Journal. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to go camping or hiking where there's been cattle."

The park is 10 miles west of American Falls on Interstate 86, and was named after skirmishes in August 1862 that left 10 pioneers and an unknown number of American Indians dead. There is debate over which tribe was involved.

The park was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and pioneers carved their names on some boulders in the park, including Register Rock. The park also contains about half a mile of wagon train ruts.

The boulders themselves were moved to the area by a giant flood about 14,500 years ago.

The park has a campground with electrical hookups, hot showers, and campfire programs during the summer.

Walz said allowing cattle in the park goes against why the park was created.

"The whole intent was to let the ground return to its natural state so travelers can get the idea of what pioneers saw when they first came through," Walz said. "The agreement (with the Idaho Parks Department) required they would manage it according to the intent for which it was purchased."

About 565 acres of the park is owned by the Parks Department, while the remaining 335 acres is owned by the Transportation Department and managed by the Parks Department under a scenic easement agreement.

The two agencies are meeting April 22 to discuss grazing cattle.

Lynott said the cattle grazing is in line with the park's mandate of maintaining the land like it was in pioneer days. He said nonnative species such as cheatgrass and knapweed have taken over much of the park, eliminating native perennials such as bunch grass.

That results in fires about every five years that burn up the accumulated nonnative plants, he said.

Lynott said the cattle would only be in the park during the fall and winter when few of the 70,000 to 100,000 annual visitors are in the park. He also said they would graze a small area intensively for a short time to get the desired result, and grazing wouldn't take place at campgrounds.

Lynott said he hasn't found any documentation that would prohibit grazing in the park. He said under the plan, if it goes forward, local ranchers would enter into contracts with the park to bring in cattle.

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