On Feb. 14, Gov. Paul LePage wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to rescind the executive order that created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Aside from the fact that this letter asks Trump to use his presidential power to overturn the executive order establishing the national monument (something that has never been done), LePage’s request was based upon misleading and outdated information.
The governor’s letter only serves to harm the economic progress and investment made in the Katahdin region since the establishment of the monument. He wrote about unsubstantiated “economic damage,” ignoring the fact that since the designation of the monument, homes are selling, investors are spending, businesses are enjoying new customers, wounds are healing and hope is growing.
LePage alleged the monument is a “grave injustice” to the forest economy, but there is zero evidence to suggest it has affected our struggling forest products industry. One need look no further than the numerous paper mill closures as a major reason for the downturn in forest products jobs. There are plenty of trees to cut, but shrinking markets for the fiber. This has nothing to do with the presence of our national monument.
We “cold timid souls,” as the governor characterized the proud and hardworking people of the Katahdin region, have been working tirelessly to improve our economy. The monument’s national brand makes our job at the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce easier. It not only provides more visibility for our region, but increases its marketability.
“Communities and regions are in a global competition to attract and retain a talented workforce,” according to CEOs for Cities. “Increasingly these talented workers are choosing where they want to live first and figuring out their job situations later.”
Talented workers are attracted to places with natural beauty and a quality environment. The designation of the national monument will attract talent to the region, ensure the sustainability of that land, and open it up for the enjoyment of the people of Maine and the nation.
LePage suggests turning the monument land over for the state to manage, and once again, he misses the mark. The forever wild status of Baxter State Park is not in jeopardy from federal ownership and management of the abutting monument lands. Baxter State Park has stated in the past that it has no desire to own the monument lands. Ironically, some of the recreational activities enjoyed in the national monument, such as snowmobiling and hunting, are prohibited in Baxter State Park.
The voters in the 2nd Congressional District overwhelmingly support the national monument, as do the voters generally throughout Maine. Reversing the designation of the monument would not “ensure our place in the world” or “make the Maine woods great again,” as the governor claims. Maine voters know that nationally designated lands ensure sustainability and visibility. Just look at the fact that CNN designated the monument one of the 17 places in the world to visit in 2017.
Just like many places in our country, the Maine woods are already great — and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is its crown jewel. The campaign to tarnish it, open old wounds and discount the economic benefits it has created in its first six months needs to stop. It is the governor’s campaign against the national monument that will harm the economy of the Katahdin region, not the national monument.
As members of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, we hear regularly about the struggles and triumphs of local businesses. Since the monument was created, we’re hearing much more about triumphs and less about struggles. The monument is not the silver bullet that will cure all the ills of the region, but it has already proven it can help improve business and provide hope.
We hope that the governor will abandon his campaign against the monument. He should follow the lead of Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and work to help the Katahdin region make the most of the opportunity presented by the monument. That would provide real economic benefit.
Gail Fanjoy is the president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce. Larry MacArthur is the vice president of the chamber.