As the region begins to benefit from the designation, the governor should direct his energy toward helping Maine’s forest products industry develop a long-term economic plan.
If Gov. LePage really wants to “make the Maine woods great again,” eliminating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument isn’t the way to do it. The governor – who has written a letter to President Trump, asking him to reverse the executive order establishing the monument – should drop his quest and allow the interest and investment fueled by the designation to take hold and grow.
The monument was created last August by then-President Obama on 87,500 acres of land just east of Baxter State Park. Philanthropist and entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby owned the property, and her nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation, donated it to the federal government and pledged a $40 million endowment for maintenance and operations.
The project was controversial; though supporters turned out in force at public meetings held by the head of the National Park Service, some residents and municipal officials in the region made it clear that they believed the designation would derail the reconstruction of a forest-based North Woods economy. And Trump, LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, condemned the monument as an example of executive overreach.
But six months later, the landscape looks different. Katahdin-region real estate agents and small-business owners – including at least one former critic of the monument – say they’re seeing more visitors and potential clients, the Maine Sunday Telegram reported last month. The Butler Conservation Fund plans to spend $5 million on an outdoor education facility and new trails near the monument. Snowmobilers have been riding the trails through the monument, some pleasantly surprised that they’re not excluded from it.
Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, said Thursday that they’d like Gov. LePage to drop the repeal effort and channel his energy in another direction. They want the governor to join a federally funded initiative to help the state’s forest products industry develop a long-term economic plan – and we agree that that’s a far more productive approach than trying to turn back the clock to the days when Maine’s paper mills were still booming.
What’s more, the chances that Trump will be able to undo his predecessor’s executive order appear slim at best. No chief executive has ever done so; legal precedent indicates that presidents can adjust national monuments but not abolish them, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded in a report released last November.
People on both sides of the national monument issue have moved on. It’s time for Gov. LePage to acknowledge reality and do the same.