December 14, 2017
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Interior Secretary Zinke recommends keeping Maine’s national monument

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Updated:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is recommending that President Donald Trump keep Maine’s year-old Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Zinke’s long-awaited report, which Trump commissioned in April, has not yet been made public. But a source briefed by Zinke said it advises Trump to keep the monument’s boundaries intact, while making “some changes on allowable uses.” Those new uses could include permitting demonstrations of historic logging practices, another source said.

Zinke is also advising the president that the other 26 monuments he reviewed should also keep their status as national monuments. He is urging Trump to shrink a handful of them, however, according the Associated Press.

A two-page executive summary from Zinke did not provide specifics on his advice. And neither he nor the White House responded to requests for comment. A date for Trump’s decision has not been set.

The news ended months of preliminary speculation over the possible fate of one of Maine’s most contentious parcels of land. In April, Trump ordered a review of monuments created or expanded by presidential orders since 1996.

Lucas St. Clair, whose mother, Roxanne Quimby, gave the Katahdin monument land to the federal government, said he hopes Trump’s review will end quickly, adding that delay could hinder the growth of visitor traffic to the monument. Gov. Paul LePage has blocked placement of signs on I-95 until Trump reaches a final decision on the new monument.

“Things like that certainly are impeding progress,” St. Clair said.

As part of his recommendation, Zinke is advising that demonstrations of logging practices be allowed — including historic wood-cutting techniques, one source said. Commercial tree harvesting within a monument would violate federal law, said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association.

Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation applauded Zinke’s review process.

“I am confident that the decision that [Zinke] announces will reflect his in-depth consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders and people in the region,” Sen. Susan Collins said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said she liked Zinke’s “deliberative study of the monument, his recommendation to protect it.”

Congressman Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, said the president should take all the time he needs to study the report before releasing it.

The House Committee on Natural Resources, which Bishop chairs, had not received the report as of Thursday afternoon, a committee spokeswoman said. The panel, which oversees federal lands, held a hearing in East Millinocket last year, and LePage and St. Clair testified at a hearing in Washington this year.

Patten Selectman Richard Schmidt, a monument supporter, called the idea that Trump would rescind Katahdin Woods “absurd” and said Trump should release Zinke’s report immediately.

“This was an unnecessary process that wasted taxpayers’ money and held the region back,” Schmidt said.

Representing the first significant federal presence in Maine’s North Woods, the monument, to some, is a symbol of the decades-old fight between environmentalists and forest-products-industry stalwarts in a region hard hit by the loss of its paper manufacturing industry.

Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Quimby led the push to put the 87,562 acres under federal control in 2011, a decade after she began buying parcels east of Baxter State Park.

Quimby had hoped to donate the land for a national park by 2016, but Maine’s congressional representatives never introduced legislation to do that. Her son, St. Clair, took command of her campaign in 2012 and his lobbyist began pitching a monument proposal to federal officials in 2015.

Overwhelming opposition to the monument was evident in every referendum on the park held by towns near Quimby’s land. Supporters countered that loud applause at a May 2016 forum, featuring then- National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, showed strong local support for the monument. They ignored an earlier meeting where local leaders bitterly opposed the monument.

President Obama created the monument by executive executive order on Aug. 24, 2016.

Critics say that Obama ignored stakeholders and that the monument has little value. Proponents say it will increasingly help the Katahdin region’s economy.

Shortly after Obama’s order, opposition began to ebb. Katahdin-region leaders indicated that they could live with the monument. Visitors began to trickle in, and some businesses began expanding.

Then came Trump’s executive order mandating a review of 27 monuments.

LePage was standing nearby in April when Trump signed the proclamation. It seemed to include only monuments larger than Katahdin Woods and Waters, but the monument was added on May 5.

Several U.S. attorneys general have declared that, in their opinion, presidents cannot rescind executive orders creating monuments, but two presidents have shrunk monuments. Congress can eliminate any national monument through legislation.

Trump’s administration indicated that reversals might be possible under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which confines monuments to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects” being preserved.

Trump’s order spurred 19 Katahdin-region leaders to sign a letter to Zinke supporting Katahdin Woods and Waters in May.

Republicans monument foes LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin had asked Trump to turn the land over to the state, although Poliquin also said that he would work to “move this project forward in the right way in order to build a stronger economy.”

During his visit to Maine in mid-June, Zinke hinted that he might seek legislation that would elevate Katahdin Woods to a national park. He clearly supported keeping the land under federal control.

 


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