The question of whether Maine should have a national park or a national monument in its North Woods is now so overtly political we may never hear any straight answers from anyone in government. Politics have become more important than policy.
One need look no further than the recent field hearing held by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee for evidence that this patch of land in a remote section of Maine is now being used as part of a national rallying cry against the big bad federal government.
In theory, a congressional field hearing on this should have been a good thing. A congressional hearing should mean sworn testimony by witnesses, presided over by sworn public servants, seeking to do what’s best for “the people.” In practice, however, we had a decidedly one-sided affair aimed at shutting down any and all efforts to bring new jobs and new opportunity to this part of Maine.
The chairman of the Natural Resources Committee is Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. Bishop’s record on federal control of public lands is clear: He’s against it. Bishop is on record opposing the spirit and practice of the Antiquities Act, the statute under which President Barack Obama is considering declaring the acreage in question a national monument.
In fact, he’s sponsored legislation that would cripple a president’s power in using the Antiquities Act, which has been used by presidents since Teddy Roosevelt.
Bishop, along with his fellow Republican colleague from Utah, Rep. Chris Stewart, have founded the Federal Land Action Group, a cadre of like-minded members of Congress who want to transfer public lands to “local ownership and control.” That’s not, on its face, a terrible thing. But when that local control includes opening up these lands to oil and gas companies for exploitation, that is, indeed, a terrible thing.
Bishop also has devoted a great deal of effort to wrecking the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, the main fund for land conservation. Since its inception in 1965, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has put more than $170 million dollars into Maine land and water conservation efforts.
The point of all this is that Bishop came to Maine not to examine the evidence of whether northern Maine could benefit from a national monument but to push his personal political agenda of curtailing federal public lands. Here in Maine, we’ve done pretty well having a national park down on the coast — one that started its public life as a national monument.
We don’t appreciate a politician coming here to advance his personal politics on the backs of Mainers who deserve a true fact-finding hearing that has our best interests at heart. We don’t need someone who doesn’t know Maine coming here to advance his political career in the guise of public hearing, the result of which was a foregone conclusion.
What we do need is an honest assessment of the facts to answer a simple question: Would Maine and Maine residents be better off with or without a national monument or park on nearly 88,000 acres of land east of Baxter State Park?
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Don Edwards lives in South Bristol. He is a member of the Veterans Voice Foundation, which believes in the value of public lands for veterans.