Since its inception, it has been the responsibility of Acadia National Park to ensure that clams, worms and intertidal food chains in the park are protected against current and future threats, and restored when or if necessary. That is what national parks do.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Sen. Angus King have introduced legislation, also co-sponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Susan Collins, that would allow commercial harvesting of clams and worms in Acadia National Park. Poliquin’s bill — HR 4266 — was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources, and it appears unstoppable at this point.
It is being touted as a victory for the “little guy” against an oppressive bureaucracy. Indeed, few have opposed it, though it weakens the park’s role as a haven for species widely and intensively exploited elsewhere and important in the intertidal food chain.
It is worth remembering that national park status comes with not only tremendous recreational and economic benefits, but also responsibilities under the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 to ensure the natural and cultural resources of these national treasures are protected in perpetuity. National parks protect and hold in reserve resources that belong to everyone — all of us “little guys.”
In a time of rapid environmental change, there is great value in protecting a small percentage of our land, insofar as possible. It is widely recognized that the Gulf of Maine is warming rapidly, stressing many cold water species while accommodating warmer water species. Of these latter species, notable are non-native invaders, such as the Asian shore crab, which feasts on clams, mussels and periwinkles (found now as far north as Schoodic Point), as well as the European green crab, another invasive crab that is devastating the state’s clam population.
The Maine Clammers Association has declared war on these invasive crabs. It’s largely overlooked that this immediate threat puts the clams and other shellfish at increased risk of overharvesting. With invasive crabs devastating clam populations in southern Maine and moving up the coast with alarming speed, the pressure on Acadia’s clam population is likely to greatly increase.
Poliquin’s bill does nothing to emphasize the responsibility of the National Park Service to ensure protection of the clam and worm populations. Neither does it consider any new financial support for park control of non-native, invasive crabs nor to monitor population changes because of the cumulative impact of harvesting pressures and climate change.
His bill regrettably responds to emotional “traditional use” arguments, in this case for commercial harvesting, that are poised to win over common-sense conservation as we face new threats.
National parks and their resources belong to all of us as citizens. Changing the mandate of a 100-year-old law is not a victory except for a few, including those whose agenda is to unravel protection of federal lands across the nation. This bill is a dangerous precedent and should be opposed by all those who value leaving special places intact for now and for the future.
Mary K. Foley is a former regional chief scientist for the National Park Service. Michael Soukup is a former associate director for the National Park Service.
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