Ryan Zinke is not recommending the removal of any of the 27 monuments under review but said some could be changed.
by Kevin Miller, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
AUGUSTA – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will not recommend elimination of Katahdin Woods and Waters or other national monuments in a report expected to be delivered to President Trump on Thursday.
Zinke told The Associated Press that he would recommend changes to some of the 27 national monuments under review but would not propose eliminating any. The recommendation will likely ease – but not entirely eliminate – concerns among supporters Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument that President Trump might attempt to rescind the federal designation on the 87,500 acres in Maine’s North Woods.
Zinke had suggested during a June visit to the monument that he would attempt to please both supporters and opponents of the monument, potentially by seeking to open some of the land to timber harvesting or allowing additional snowmobiling and hunting in areas.
President Obama designated the area just east of Baxter State Park as a national monument on Aug. 24, 2016, as part of the commemoration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. The designation followed years of intense, sometimes bitter debate over the future of the Katahdin region and what role, if any, a national park or monument could play in reviving an economy spiraling from paper mill closures.
Supporters argued a monument would draw visitors – and therefore jobs – back to the region at a time when Maine’s nature-based tourism industry is thriving. And those predictions were true, to some extent. In the year since the monument designation, many businesses have reported a modest uptick in tourist traffic, some towns are seeing new investment and real estate professionals are fielding more calls.
A core group of opponents – led at least publicly by Gov. Paul LePage – remains unconvinced of the monument’s economic potential, however.
They downplay the scenic value and historic significance of an area that merely overlooks Mount Katahdin – Maine’s highest peak – in neighboring Baxter State Park. LePage even told a congressional committee that few tourists would likely leave Maine’s coast to visit “the mosquito area.”
Sportsmen have also criticized the Quimby family and, now, the National Park Service for restricting hunting and snowmobiling to smaller areas of the monument. And they continue to suggest that the region’s new “Big Brother” neighbor will hurt the forestry industry and other stymie industrial development.
Zinke, a former Navy Seal and Montana congressman, quickly squashed any lingering hopes that the federal government would give the land back to the state. Speaking during a two-day visit to the monument and Katahdin region, Zinke called the monument “beautiful” and said federal ownership of the land was “settled.”
Yet Zinke also hinted at potential management changes – particularly around timber harvesting and recreation – even as he used the two words even more feared by opponents of the monument: “national park.”
“I think the solutions should be made-in-Maine solutions, not made-in-Washington,” Zinke said on June 15. “That means we have an opportunity to do something different here. You can harvest timber, you can hunt, you can respect traditional uses in the confines of a monument or a park. So we are looking at the appropriateness of a monument (versus) a park and looking at how would we do that.”
LePage, a vocal opponent of the monument who eventually backed Trump during the 2016 campaign, played a major role in convincing the Trump administration to review Katahdin Woods and Waters. It is the only monument smaller than 100,000 to make the list on grounds that the Interior Secretary may review designations “made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”