U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin released a letter Thursday in which the nation’s top park service official extolled the virtues of national parks and monuments in response to their “ serious reservations” about a proposal to create a monument in the Katahdin region.
Dated Feb. 4, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis’ letter praises the approximately 87,500 acres that the family of millionaire entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby wants to donate to the National Park Service this year. He said that he looked forward to hearing more from the three members of Maine’s congressional delegation about the proposal.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the area and its recreational potential, and I was intrigued by the rich history of Native Americans, early conservationists, and the timber industry,” Jarvis wrote in the 1½-page letter.
The letter from Jarvis, who toured the proposed monument area in 2014, offers no insight into whether or when President Barack Obama may sign an executive order creating a national monument on the lands.
Collins, King and Poliquin expressed dissatisfaction with Jarvis’ letter for its failure to address nine conditions they laid out in a letter to the president on Nov. 20, 2015.
“These conditions are critical to ensuring that future economic activities in the Katahdin region are not stifled by burdensome regulations that upset the Maine tradition of multi-use working forests,” Collins and King wrote in a joint statement.
Poliquin agreed, saying that President Obama’s failure to respond himself “shows a complete lack of interest and concern from the White House for the residents of the Katahdin region.”
The delegates wrote to Obama last fall, saying that “the last thing the Katahdin region needs is burdensome and restrictive federal regulations that discourage future investment and badly needed jobs while changing the traditional Maine way of life.
“We cannot underscore enough the importance of bringing new economic development to this severely economically depressed region of Maine,” the delegation’s letter states. “A national monument designation, however, would likely antagonize already divided local communities.
Jarvis expressed appreciation for the lawmakers’ comments but offered no solution to the concerns they expressed. Instead, he said that the park service drew 305 million visitors to its system, generating more than $16 billion “into the economies of communities within 60 miles of parks.”
Jarvis suggested that the influx of new visitors to the area would create new industries and require new skills of the host communities.
Poliquin said he believed it would be “irresponsible governing to add a national monument to our 408 existing national park service units when we cannot even afford to take care of the one’s we’ve already got.”
The National Park Service reported on Friday an increase from $11.5 billion to $11.9 billion in its deferred maintenance deficit since 2014.
Collins and Poliquin are Republicans. King is an independent, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has been largely excluded from the debate over the Quimby proposal because she represents southern Maine.
The delegates’ letter states nine conditions the three members of Congress urge Obama to include in an executive order should he issue one despite their reservations.
The nine conditions include providing “express permission for all traditional recreation uses” with the monument designation. That includes hunting, fishing, and all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile use.
The president also must preserve the “robust forestry activities” such as logging, trucking and timber harvesting and give preference to Maine businesses and products in contracting for monument services. All adjacent lands must be kept free of federal control, with established easements and rights of way maintained, the letter states, and no eminent domain seizures of adjacent land should be permitted.
“More than 40 percent of the proposed area is owned by other private landowners, some of whom have adamantly expressed they have no interest in selling their land for inclusion in any federal land system,” the letter states.
The delegation recommended that the U.S. Forest Service “be considered as an agency to oversee” the monument and that a local and state advisory board assist in management of the lands.
The federal Department of the Interior is “sensitive” to the Katahdin region’s economic needs and traditional industries, Jarvis said.