When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and met with groups in the region, he was applauded for taking the time to experience the new monument and hear diverse views about its creation.
He could have saved taxpayers a lot of money and simply written his recommendations from his Washington office. His recommendations for the Maine monument, which the Trump administration has not shared with the public but were leaked to The Washington Post, consist of two paragraphs. One of them, which emphasizes traditional uses such as hunting and fishing, appears in his recommendations for every land-based monument that he evaluated in the memo.
From the 1.4-million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, home to Native American artifacts, to the forested Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and California to Maine’s small parcel, the message is the same. The monuments should allow the same activities on the protected land as are taking place outside their boundaries. This is less a thoughtful analysis and more the imposition of a mindset that nothing should be off limits to extraction, whether it be logs, fish, oil or coal. This totally undermines the point of conservation.
“The management plan should be revised to continue to protect objects and prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades; repair; and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural uses; and hunting and fishing rights.” This paragraph appears in the recommendations for seven monuments in the 19-page memo, including Katahdin Woods and Waters.
Zinke recommends allowing commercial fishing in the three marine monuments discussed in the memo. He also writes that “the boundary should be revised,” a euphemism from shrinking the monument, for four monuments in the western U.S. after noting that the monument designations impacted grazing, water rights or mineral extraction.
The leaked memo covers 10 monuments, seven on land and three at sea. He was tasked by President Donald Trump with reviewing 27 national monuments that had been created since 1996, including Katahdin Woods and Waters. Zinke said earlier this summer that six monuments should be left as they are. It is unknown what Zinke suggests for the other 11 monuments.
As part of his review, Zinke spent two days in Maine in June. During that visit he said he might recommend the monument be upgraded to a national park.
His recommendations move in the opposite direction while leaving an unnecessary cloud of uncertainty over Maine’s only national monument, which already has become a tourism draw for a region hard hit by the loss of mill and logging jobs.
The one unique thing Zinke did recommend for Katahdin Woods and Waters is “active timber management” within its boundaries. However, in a list of random thoughts above the recommendations, Zinke’s memo notes that “commercial timbering” is not typically allowed in National Park Service units other than to “conserve … historic objects.” The memo does not explain how “active timber management” would be used to conserve historic objects in the Maine monument.
Opponents of the national monument, including Gov. Paul Lepage, have argued — simultaneously — that the monument is a mosquito-infested, cutover wasteland and that it must be accessible to loggers, otherwise they’ll lose their livelihoods, which is odd math because 87,000 acres is a tiny fraction of the 10 million wooded acres in Maine.
On a more basic level, Zinke’s suggestion that the Maine monument’s management plan should be revised is premature since it has yet to be written. Monument employees are still gathering public input about the management plan, which will take three years to complete. If the National Park Service strongly believes it needs “active timber management,” without violating federal law, it could write that into the management plan, without the theatrics of the president threatening to undo another president’s action under the Antiquities Act.
The problem is, without Zinke formally releasing his recommendations, and explaining them, the public is left wonder what, if any, changes will be made to the Katahdin monument. This threatens the positive benefits — more visitors, more money spent in the local economy — that the monument has already brought to the region.
Zinke and the Trump administration owes it to the region to explain their plans for Maine’s monument.