Responses in the public comment period nearly unanimously endorse the national monument.
by Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director of the Augusta-based Natural Resources Council of Maine
Portland Press Herald op-ed
AUGUSTA — In May, the Trump administration asked Americans to weigh in on the fate of 27 national monuments, including Katahdin Woods and Waters. People jumped at the chance. Now it’s time for the administration to listen.
By July 10, the end of the two-month public comment period, more than 260,000 people had submitted comments specifically mentioning Maine’s new national monument. The Department of Interior posted all comments on its official website, whether they were submitted online or in hard copy.
Natural Resources Council of Maine staff members examined all of the comments the Interior Department had received through July 4 that mentioned Katahdin Woods and Waters. This included thousands of comments that were contained within attachments to online submissions. We spent 120 hours reviewing them all.
The public comments reveal nearly unanimous endorsement of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. As of July 4, we found that 99.96 percent of the comments supported Maine’s monument: Only 67 were against Katahdin Woods and Waters and 192,000 were for it. And by July 10, the percentage in support did not change. This number does not even include generic comments in support of all national monuments under review, or tens of thousands of names on petitions.
Printed out, the comments in support of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would tower 60 feet high – the height of a five-story building. In comparison, the comments in opposition would be only one-quarter of an inch tall.
Reading the comments, it is clear that the vast majority of people see Katahdin Woods and Waters as good news for the region, for Maine and for the nation. Commenters see the designation as a settled matter, and do not want the monument taken away.
Many Katahdin-region residents who once opposed the monument have since become strong supporters, as they see the economic boost in the Katahdin region and new financial investments that they say would not have happened without the new monument. Commenters mention seeing visitors from all over the country who are spending money, and many say they plan to return.
The comments make clear that, in addition to broad support, there was also significant opportunity for local input and the original proposal was modified based on public input, especially from the Katahdin region.
Katahdin Woods and Waters was established after a multi-year, statewide public conversation about the possibility of a national park or monument like this in the Katahdin region. There was exhaustive public outreach, including hundreds of group and one-on-one discussions and presentations, a major public listening session attended by almost 1,400 Mainers, and coordination with relevant stakeholders. In their comments, scores of people described the public meetings they attended during the past five years.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was established by then-President Obama on Aug. 24, 2016. Obama’s action was made possible through the donation of 87,500 acres of land by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. The nonprofit foundation purchased the land from willing sellers, and generously donated it to the Department of Interior to be permanently conserved, with public access forever. Elliotsville Plantation also has pledged to provide $20 million to support the monument and help raise an additional $20 million.
The land features stunning views of Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin; the wild and scenic East Branch of the Penobscot River; forests that inspired Henry David Thoreau and Teddy Roosevelt; and moose, bear and other wildlife that are a major attraction for visitors.
For those who may wonder if the residents of the Katahdin region got their say during this public comment period, they spoke up in droves, and their words were inspiring. Here are just a few excerpts we found from people who specifically said they are from that region:
“Just miles from my house, the newly-created Katahdin Woods and Waters monument is already bringing new life to our city in the form of tourist dollars, while also preserving the beauty of our great state for generations to come.”
“The Monument has been a welcome boost to our local economy in the short nine months since its creation and it has the potential to continue to grow our economy in the years ahead. I’ve witnessed firsthand the positive effect of the Monument in our local real estate market.”
We sincerely hope that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump acknowledge the overwhelming support and heed the wishes of the vast majority of Americans and protect this gift to our nation forever.