Jim Caswell, the former Bureau of Land Management Director, who led the Interior Department study of potential national monument designations for Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne under President George Bush, was no stranger to the Mesa Falls area.
The Vietnam veteran had been the Targhee National Forest Supervisor in the 1990s who had tried hard to keep the local timber mill open after two-decade-old salvage sales had largely cut all of the forest’s supply. Caswell also was involved in a cooperative program between the state of Idaho and the U.S. Forest Service to gain public access to Upper Mesa Falls.
So when Kempthorne asked him to look into national monument status, he knew the area, the issues and the people of Fremont County well.
That’s why he urged Kempthorne to consider an even larger area, the entire 700,000 acres of pubic land in the Island Park Caldera that rises out of the Snake River Plain north of Ashton. The mill closed in the 1990s. The remaining ranchers voluntarily gave up their grazing privileges on the national forest and the area has become economically a tourism mecca, especially for the world class fly fishing on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.
Caswell also had been involved in the landmark collaborative group, the Henry’s Fork Watershed Council, formed by the Henry’s Fork Foundation and the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District and their visionary leaders Jan Brown and Dale Swenson.
His vision of stakeholders getting involved in the management, also developed into the Idaho Roadless Commission, which he helped first then-Gov. Kempthorne and then Gov. Jim Risch and Gov. Butch Otter organize with the U.S. Forest Service.
Here is a video of Caswell describing the boundaries of the proposed Idaho Yellowstone Caldera national monument: