Picture fishing in the woods of northern Maine. Cool, clear ponds ringed with fir and pine, and dimpled with rising trout. Tumbling cascades and pools in streams, rivers as wild and beautiful as any across the country. Brook trout were always here, and they are still here. Atlantic salmon once swam to the oceans from these headwaters, coming back in unforgettable heroic runs, and just maybe, will again. Both require our vigilance and protection, and that’s where Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument comes in.
It was a surprise to hear Gov. Paul LePage tell Congress that the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is “the mosquito area,” and suggest nobody would want to go there in his lifetime. People have been coming from away to fish in Maine for 150 years. Conservationists such as former President Teddy Roosevelt and former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter stayed in sporting camps near the national monument, and that experience shaped their lifetime commitment to conservation.
President Donald Trump’s recent executive order directing the Interior Department to review national monument designations was expected to focus on monuments comprising more than 100,000 acres. The Katahdin Woods and Waters is 87,000 acres, but it was uniquely included to determine whether it had failed to receive sufficient public comment and debate — a charge LePage has repeatedly made against the monument.
I can speak to one part of that process.
The Maine Council of Trout Unlimited supported the monument designation, a decision we did not rush or take lightly. We took a long and thorough look at the objectives cited for the creation of a national monument. We compared our mission to the goals behind the monument designation: to protect objects of historical, cultural or scientific interest, including the protection of wilderness areas from encroaching development.
The latter especially caught our eyes, and we took the related responsibility seriously.
Our native fish carry a great burden. They are not just beloved in the hearts of Maine’s people, but also our canary in the water quality coal mine. Maine is in the eyes of the nation as far as brook trout are concerned. Maine contains more than 97 percent of the intact lake and pond brook trout habitat in the eastern United States. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, “Wild brook trout are a nationally significant resource and Maine is considered the last stronghold of these fish.”
Our Atlantic salmon are an endangered national treasure. No other state has our heritage of these majestic fish or seen such progress in retaining them. The Penobscot River system alone has been the focus of a years-long grand and multipartnered restoration project, allowing endangered Atlantic salmon to swim upstream to places where they haven’t returned in generations.
Katahdin Woods and Waters protects four heritage brook trout ponds, gems tucked into the landscape where our most iconic fish has been swimming for hundreds of years, sustained by nature, not by stocking. The monument protects fish and their habitat in 20 miles of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, 10 miles of Wassataquoik Stream, 7 miles of the Seboeis River, and miles and miles of small tributary streams vital to brook trout and salmon spawning.
Given the extent and quality of trout and salmon habitat, the designation of a national monument was a route to ensure permanent protections for our native fish, a central part of our mission.
The 87,000 acres of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument isn’t a cut-over, mosquito-infested no-man’s land. It is home to legacy brook trout ponds and clear, productive flowing waters. With its designation as a national monument, it promises to protect those resources, and to continue a long tradition of being everyone’s land.
Kathy Scott is the chair of the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited.