It was with disappointment that I read what Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have in store for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in his memorandum to the president, especially in light of the secretary’s visit to Maine back in June. I was one of a group who greeted Zinke that day over six months ago, and I recall the scene well.
We were gathered beside a rushing tributary of the Penobscot’s East Branch. A padded press microphone at the end of a boom hovered above Zinke’s head as he shook hands with people sitting atop huge freshet-polished boulders. The weather was sunny and breezy, and the bugs were mercifully few.
As I waited my turn to shake hands, I remember marveling at the boulders in the stream bed and how they seemed to have spilled like seed from the apron of the glacier only yesterday.
To reach the water’s edge that day, the secretary had to leap from one off-kilter rock to the next. A fall in front of the press would have been embarrassing, and painful, but Zinke, tall and trim and with a lifetime in the Montana mountains, had obvious confidence in his long strides.
To those of us who had had a few months to bask in the monument’s 2016 creation by then-President Barack Obama, Zinke’s presence at Katahdin Woods and Waters was unsettling, but we were hopeful nonetheless. Ordered by Trump to review 27 monuments created during the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations, he was there that day to assess the worthiness of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and he seemed favorably impressed with the place.
When I got my chance to chat with the secretary, I introduced myself as a local citizen and monument supporter. Our voices mingled with the murmur of water as we talked about his home state of Montana and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. He had spent much time in “The Bob,” he told me after learning I went there several years before to hunt elk. I sensed he was pleased to speak with a fellow nimrod who shared his passion for hunting.
Since time was fleeting, I told him that Maine’s new monument should remain as it is — in size, configuration and pristine state.
He nodded and assured me not much would change, but I suspected several months down the road when he made his recommendation to the president, Zinke’s memory of pressing the flesh in this stream bed would have faded somewhat. And the next evening he would be having dinner at the Blaine House in Augusta with Gov. Paul LePage, a fierce monument opponent.
Now, Zinke has written that he wants to “promote a healthy forest through active timber management” at Katahdin Woods and Waters. This innocuous phrase, which suggests sustainable logging practices, has an appealing ring to it.
But we should examine the possible impact of such logging operations. As one who has canoed, hiked, mountain-biked and cross-country skied on the land, I’ve helped folks who have stopped in at the monument office in Millinocket plan their trips there. Logging would not only interfere with their experience, but negatively influence the recent promising uptick in tourism in the Katahdin region.
Imagine traveling the monument roads on your way to pursue your favorite pastime. It is a quiet, sunny day and the forest opens up as you drive, revealing a beaver bog. You scan this vista of marsh grass and bare cedar snags for a great blue heron or the dark shape of a feeding moose.
You drive on and, rounding a corner, encounter skidders and log trucks, and hear the high-pitched whine of the saws of a mechanized harvester. Even if you’re accustomed to cutting operations in our extensive private working forests, you may be tempted to ask, “Is there no place sacred?”
Yet, through his recommendation to amend the proclamation creating the monument, Zinke hinted at the possibility of widespread timber harvesting in Katahdin Woods and Waters, despite all its scenic treasures.
Standing on the banks of Wassataquoik Stream last June, the secretary told us he was impressed with the beauty of the monument and that he had a plan that would make everyone happy. Today, I fear the harm “active” logging within earshot of scenic corridors and points of interest will do to this precious gift to the American people.
Paul Corrigan is a retired Baxter State Park ranger living in Millinocket.
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