Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recent trip to Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument provides clues as to what he may look for when he visits Maine’s monument on Wednesday.
Zinke’s task is to advise President Donald Trump on the legality of President Barack Obama’s executive order creating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Yet his Bears Ears review shows that he’s also interested in studying efficiency and logistics — and the Maine monument’s beauty may not sway him much.
He also seems interested in hearing from everybody. Besides Wednesday’s tour of the monument, Zinke will meet on Thursday with local businesses and leaders, the Penobscot Indian Nation and at least one opposition group.
Here’s what he may be looking for:
— Lots of traditional access to the monument. Zinke describes himself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, and the Rough Rider, an avid outdoorsman, stressed accessibility on public land for hunters and fishermen.
Katahdin Woods’ hunting, snowmobile and ATV access is interpreted differently. After assuming control of his family’s national park campaign, Lucas St. Clair earned accolades in 2013 for allowing hunting on 40,000 acres that his mother, Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, had denied.
St. Clair had a snowmobile trail built and opened the main entrance Loop Road to the public, seemingly making the land more accessible for the public.
Yet a map that monument foe Gov. Paul LePage sent to Congress measures the land’s accessibility before Quimby bought it — and lists a net loss of access.
According to the map, 84 square miles of hunting, 87 square miles of snowmobile and ATV trails and 137 square miles of timber harvesting were cut from the 87,562-acre monument when Quimby bought it. Those restrictions generally still apply, although even monument opponents say the sizes may actually be smaller.
It is unclear whether Zinke will think it fair to in effect blame Quimby for actions she had every right to take as a private landowner, years before the monument was created, or measure the monument’s accessibility by St. Clair’s expansions.
— Adequate infrastructure and historic or natural assets worth protecting. Zinke said he found Bears Ears lacking in toilets, signage, office space and protection of its assets. He recommended that Congress shrink Bears Ears by re-designating parts of it as national forests, which he said provide greater environmental protection to the land.
If his impression of Bears Ears is any indication, Zinke is unlikely to be swayed merely by the beauty of the north Maine woods.
“There is a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land there than there is historic or prehistoric objects,” Zinke said of Bears Ears.
LePage has challenged the historic and cultural value of the Maine monument, dismissing it as a “mosquito area.”
Maine’s monument has extensive signage and several portable bathrooms, marked interior roads and several displays within its boundaries. But no offices are built there yet, LePage has denied it signage on state roads and Obama’s executive order is painstaking in outlining the scientific and historic assets within the monument.
— Consensus. It was nearly impossible to expect years ago, but harmony among Katahdin region stakeholders might be a lot more achievable now that many of the area’s political leaders see the monument as helpful to the region’s economy.
The monument’s opponents are likely to give Zinke their input at least once during his visit.
Zinke’s itinerary calls for him on Thursday to eat breakfast with the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, which supports the monument, before meeting with the Penobscot Indian Nation, which endorsed the monument, and Maine Woods Coalition, which opposes it.