September 22, 2017
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Monument review is still hidden from public, but it appears to be good news for Maine

Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
K U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens to questions during a tour of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in June.

Although the Trump administration is still withholding details, it appears that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s review of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has concluded that the year-old monument should remain largely as it is. This is a logical conclusion given the years of planning and changes based on local concerns that went into creating the 87,500-acre monument.

Those briefed by the secretary say he is recommending that the Maine monument remain a monument with minimal changes, including an allowance for a limited amount of logging to showcase the region’s timber history.

Logging, of course, isn’t needed in the monument, but we understand the secretary’s desire to try to quell the obstructionist anger of Gov. Paul LePage over last year’s monument designation by then-President Barack Obama. We are glad Zinke did it in the least invasive way possible.

After his review, which President Donald Trump ordered in April, Zinke announced Thursday that all 27 monuments that he reconsidered should remain national monuments. On one hand, this is an important reaffirmation that the Antiquities Act is working, and that presidents are using it, as intended.

On the other hand, however, a brief explanation of Zinke’s review process shows that he and the Department of the Interior clearly favored comments in support of mining, grazing, timber production, hunting and motorized recreation on monument lands, even though those comments were far outnumbered by those asking that the monuments stay as they are. These comments were largely dismissed as part of a “well-orchestrated national campaign” in a “report summary” issued by Zinke and his department.

This bias is confirmed by what little is known about Zinke’s recommendations, which have not been made public. He is recommending a nearly 90 percent downsizing of the controversial Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. He also is proposing to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also in Utah, along with two other monuments, according to people briefed on his detailed recommendations. These changes would likely open areas currently protected by monument status to oil and gas drilling and mining, which these industries have long sought.

Zinke also is suggesting that fishing be allowed in marine monuments.

Without being able to read Zinke’s specific recommendations for each monument he reviewed, it is hard to know whether his reviews were appropriate or framed to fit a preconceived notion that more federal land should be open to extractive industries and motorized recreation.

But in the case of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, it appears Zinke hit the mark.

The secretary visited the monument in June and was clearly impressed. “If this [view] is an indicator, I’ll be pretty happy,” he said June 14 as he and his staff posed for photos at an overlook in the monument that offers sweeping views of Katahdin and Katahdin Lake. He said he understood that everyone loved the land and wanted access to it. He also spoke of the monument’s growing importance to the local economy. “I’m comfortable, certainly, with it in public hands,” Zinke said. Scaling back the size of the 87,500-acres monument didn’t make sense, he told reporters.

The next day, Zinke said he might recommend that the Maine monument become a national park. This would take an act of Congress and can’t be done unilaterally by the Department of the Interior or the president.

The full details of his review should be made public as soon as possible. The certainty will allow local businesses to make decisions about investments, allow monument staff to plan improvements, including directional highway signs that the Maine Department of Transportation now must install, and let visitors know they should plan a trip to the Katahdin region.

 


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