June 24, 2019
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Teddy Roosevelt would have had high hopes for North Woods monument

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

Gov. Paul LePage is an American character. His bluster roars out of Maine as though the north wind sired him. In a predictable letter to President Donald Trump, he doggedly urged action against the Barack Obama-designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, writing: “Regarding the national monument designation, ‘those cold timid souls who neither know victory or defeat’ argue that you, as president, cannot undo a national monument because it has never been done before.”

That is rich on several counts. I did not support Trump, but I hardly think he needs to prove his mettle in the “arena.” And pilfering the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, our nation’s conservation president, to urge the undoing of a national monument is a brazen bit of co-opting — one I am not sure even LePage would try if TR were still with us.

Read LePage’s full letter.

I fully appreciate that the hard-pressed rural communities in Maine have had legitimate fears and concerns about this monument and what it means for their economic and cultural well-being. Theirs is a way of life long treasured in Maine’s northern reaches — a way of life that tutored Teddy Roosevelt in conservation and a way of life that should be honored.

Many forget it was a Maine lumberman and guide, Bill Sewall, who helped shape Ted Roosevelt’s love for the outdoors and for this state. Bill was massive and strong; it was as though his muscles and bones were carved from Maine’s own earth. When they met, Ted Roosevelt was a 19-year-old student at Harvard, asthmatic and, as Bill told it (long after TR’s death), “weak.”

Together they climbed Katahdin, fished, hunted and trekked. Miles upon miles. They trekked all the way to the White House, where Bill and his wife stood next to the president on a receiving line at a reception in Bill’s honor. The president and Bill knew what it took to keep going. One more step. Character and grit forged here in Maine’s mountains and forests.

Many environmentalists make a mistake in assuming that TR only loved wild places; he loved the wild hearts born of those places quite possibly even more. So do I. And I suspect he would have high hopes for how this national monument can serve its affected communities and its closest neighbors, even if they are our distant neighbors.

Many mistakes have been made with globalization, and rural communities have suffered more than most. It is a phenomenon that has happened to us, more than one thoughtfully shaped by us. The common trope often negligently recited, “those jobs will never come back,” is not exactly true. Job security will not come back. Change will be more constant and more rapid.

A forest products economy should be redeveloped for this region. It is far better for the global environment for us to source what we consume in natural resources locally or regionally. Timber harvests also are necessary for the health of the forest. With increased knowledge and new technologies, this can be done far more sustainably today. Harvard University’s School of Forestry warns us of the “ illusion of preservation.” What we preserve here, our consumption destroys elsewhere.

But even a forest products resurgence will not be sufficient. Rural communities need diversity and reinvestment. And this monument designation is a good deal for this community. Because it was originally private land, there has been far more leeway for negotiating around its management plan, and I am very impressed with the leadership of Lucas St. Clair on that score. In an interview, he said: “I feel like conservation in Maine has left the people out in a lot of ways. … This is not about putting a bell jar over a piece of land.” For instance, his dedication has secured snowmobiling and hunting in the eastern section of the monument.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who once opposed the monument, also have urged against LePage’s quest to undo it. The monument is already showing economic promise, and they are working to ensure it continues to do so.

In the years to come, I suspect that I will disagree with Trump often. Nonetheless, I believe that he has what it takes to restore our national parks and monuments so that once again they are our country’s crown jewels. And with this monument, he has the opportunity to demonstrate how a conservative administration can eclipse the false opposition between economy and ecology and make both work again for our rural people.

Theodore Roosevelt IV is the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.

 



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