For nearly two months, the U.S. Department of the Interior has asked the American public what should be done with the 27 national monuments under review by the Trump administration. More than 99 percent of the responses that have mentioned Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument favor keeping it, according to one of the state’s largest environmental organizations.
All but 67 of the 192,052 comments about Maine’s monument that were submitted to Interior’s website from May 11 to July 4 supported it, Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of Natural Resources Council of Maine, said at a press conference at Epic Sports in downtown Bangor.
At issue is whether then-President Barack Obama created Katahdin Woods last August without adequate public outreach to relevant stakeholders. Interior officials set the 60-day public comment period to answer that question, which was posed by President Donald Trump. The site at regulations.gov will stop taking comments on Monday.
“The public sees this as a settled matter and [does] not want the monument taken away or rescinded in any fashion,” said Pohlmann, whose staff reviewed every comment.
But a leading opponent to the monument, Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers, disputed NRCM’s review, calling the organization one of the monument’s biggest backers.
According to his own brief review, many of the positive comments “are from zombie messengers who are spewing out form letters from NRCM and the Sierra Club and other big-money organizations,” Meyers said.
“I think most people doing real letters are more deliberative than that,” Meyers said.
NRCM workers spent 120 hours analyzing the comments, opening online attachments and counting each comment as they went, the organization said. The comments often lacked addresses, making it impossible to tell whether the writers were Mainers. Generic comments supporting all monuments were omitted, as were tens of thousands of names on petitions, said Judy Berk, NRCM’s spokeswoman.
It is unclear what weight the comments will have with President Donald Trump, who ordered the review in April to determine whether the executive order creating Katahdin Woods was illegal.
Opponents have said the monument designation hung on Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s 87,562 acres east of Baxter State Park should be rescinded or that the state should assume management of the land. Supporters say the executive order was proper and that the monument is a boon to Maine.
It is unclear whether presidents can rescind monuments. Attorneys general have said since the 1930s that presidents are not legally empowered to reverse executive orders creating monuments. Congress can eliminate monuments through legislation.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who visited Katahdin Woods last month, is due to submit his review to the president by Aug. 24.
To submit a comment online at regulations.gov, enter “DOI-2017-0002” in the search bar and click, “Search.” Or mail to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.