Sec. Zinke in Kathadin Woods and Waters National Monument on June 14.
Just as tourists are arriving at Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument for its first official summer season, Interior Secretary Zinke was visiting too — to review its monument status.
Zinke’s trip this week came less than two months after President Trump issued a controversial executive order that threatens 27 national monuments, and Katahdin has been at imminent risk of losing its protection. But despite Trump’s order to “review” all monuments created since 1996, Zinke owes it to the American public to leave this monument untouched.
Americans deserve this monument, not only because it was lawfully designated by President Obama, but because it helps preserve more of our shrinking natural heritage, 87,500 acres of unspoiled wooded acres in Maine’s north woods to be precise.
Katahdin is one of the largest tracts of undeveloped wildlands in the eastern U.S. It provides a vital and vast habitat for moose, lynx, bears and Atlantic salmon, and is a beautiful place to go hiking, hunting and fishing, as well as skiing and snowmobiling.
The land had been purchased by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, and was donated to the U.S. federal government by the Quimby family and Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., last August. It was donated with the full intention that it would be run by the National Park Service. If the government were to change the designation or make any move to give the land away, it could set a terrible precedent which might make any gifts like these impossible in the future.
A vocal anti-conservation minority, including Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, opposed the monument designation, claiming (falsely) that it would hurt industry and referring to the beautiful land as the “mosquito area.” He wanted the monument included in Zinke’s review.
The region has struggled with the closing of paper mills, but within months of the monument’s designation, local real estate agents and small business owners reported an increase in interest, activity and visitors, with some even saying business is “booming.” That’s resulted in a changing opinion about the monument for some. Secretary Zinke’s own meeting with business owners from the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce showed this positive story – when the Secretary asked those that supported the monument to stand, all 30 local business owners stood.
No president has revoked a national monument — and for good reason. However, if Zinke’s recommendation after visiting the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah provides clues to his intentions, Katahdin could be in peril. On June 12, Zinke recommended revoking protections for large portions of Bears Ears, which contains thousands of historic and cultural sites considered sacred by Native American tribes, as well as red rock canyonlands.
Zinke wouldn’t specify how much of the 1.5 million acre monument would remain protected but said it would be the “smallest area possible.” He said the focus at Bears Ears would be on “historic sites and less so on surrounding lands,” despite calling those red rock canyonlands “drop-dead gorgeous.”
Some opponents have suggested that control of the Katahdin monument be turned over to the state of Maine, but this would be a horrible deal for the monument as LePage has been clear he would use the land for commercial timber harvesting if given the chance. While Secretary Zinke did say he thought the federal ownership of the land was settled, he was less clear on expanded logging.
Maine’s attorney general, a Democrat, has said it would be illegal for the Trump administration to alter or reduce the national monument. The administration doesn’t have the authority to give away federal public lands.
Zinke did indicate on his visit that he was not in favor of “scaling back” the monument or turning over the land to private or state ownership, reported the Bangor Daily News. He said he was meeting with local proponents and opponents to ensure there had been adequate public review before the monument was designated, and mentioned infrastructure in Katahdin was one of his concerns. He also said he wanted logging, hunting and other activities to remain strong in the area. But, the interior secretary stopped short of reaffirming Katahdin’s status, the Portland Press Herald noted.
However, nearly all of those the Secretary encountered during his tour of the monument wholeheartedly supported it.
It’s clear that no monument, regardless of its natural, historical or cultural significance, is safe from the whims of this anti-conservation administration and until we see the final report, nothing can be assumed.
Katahdin, Bears Ears and all of our precious national monuments need you to take a stand. The public commenting period is open until July 10, so you can still voice your support for Katahdin Woods and Waters. Zinke is expecting to submit a final report on the reviewed monuments in August.