Lucas St. Clair says a Trump administration official suggested the National Monument designation won’t be reviewed, but an Interior Department spokeswoman says it could be.
by Kevin Miller, staff writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Questions swirled Thursday about whether the Trump administration plans to review Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument after the U.S. Secretary of the Interior reportedly told the monument’s chief advocate it is not on the list.
But a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior said “no decisions have been made one way or the other” on the Katahdin-area national monument.
Lucas St. Clair, who headed his family’s years-long effort to donate the land to the National Park Service, said he spoke with Secretary Ryan Zinke on Wednesday evening at a conservation foundation event in Washington, D.C., hours after President Trump ordered a review of monument designations. St. Clair said he left the conversation reassured that the 87,500-acre national monument just east of Baxter State Park would not be in the Trump administration’s cross hairs, despite Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s high-profile attendance at Trump’s White House executive order signing ceremony.
“I had a chance to talk to him about the monument in Maine and his first question to me was, ‘Is the monument smaller than 100,000 acres?’,” St. Clair said Thursday. “I said, ‘Yes’ and he said, ‘You’re not on the list.’”
Trump’s executive order directed the Interior Department to review all monument designations since 1996 larger than 100,000 acres, a threshold that almost exclusively captures monuments in Western states. But the order also calls for a review of any monuments “where the Secretary determines that the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
The executive order does not rescind any monument designations – and parks advocates say Trump cannot legally abolish a predecessor’s monument. Only Congress can do that, according to the Antiquities Act of 1906.
LePage, a staunch opponent of the monument, seized on the phrase about “adequate public outreach” as part of his contention that President Obama overlooked local and state opposition when he made the designation last August.
“You know the Legislature passed a resolution not to do it and we had referendums with the local people saying they didn’t want it,” LePage said Thursday on the WGAN Morning News radio program. “I signed on saying we didn’t want it and the president ignored it all. So that is going to be reviewed as well.”
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift cited the same language and added “if the local community and officials don’t feel as though they were part of the process, the Secretary could review it.”
“Respectfully, Mr. St. Clair does not speak for the Secretary or the Department,” Swift wrote in an email. “No decisions have been made one way or the other. This is a clear and deliberative process and it will include input from the governor and other local stakeholders.”
But St. Clair, whose mother is conservationist Roxanne Quimby, said he spoke with Zinke about the numerous meetings he held over the years with Katahdin-area residents and stakeholders. Those meetings culminated with two public hearings held last summer by Zinke’s predecessor, Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, that drew more than 1,500 people plus a congressional field hearing in East Millinocket that drew several hundred.
St. Clair said he also explained how his family’s foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., reduced the project’s size, opened up snowmobiling trails and allowed hunting on some lands in response to concerns raised by local residents and businesses during the many meetings.
“He acknowledged the fact that this was a very different scenario” than designations on federal lands out West, St. Clair said. “This is private land . . . and he recognized that this is quite different and unique to Maine.”
A LePage spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Obama used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to create Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in August after a years-long debate over land conservation and economic development in the Katahdin region. The Quimby family donated the land to the federal government – along with a pledge of a $40 million endowment – days earlier and attached strict deed restrictions to the transfer. Monument visitors can hike, camp, fish, paddle along the East Branch of the Penobscot River and Wassataquoik Stream as well as hunt and snowmobile in designated areas.
Obama’s repeated use of the Antiquities Act to designate monuments irked Republican lawmakers, particularly in Western states. And LePage plans to testify next week before a congressional committee on “the consequences of executive branch overreach of the Antiquities Act.”
While Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument remains controversial, many people on both sides have criticized attempts to reverse the designation and expressed a desire to move forward by ensuring the monument benefits the local economy. And many businesses in the Katahdin region – from real estate offices to lodges and retail shops – say they were seeing modest benefits from the new National Park Service property even before the monument experienced its first summer tourism season.
St. Clair said he is feeling confident, regardless of any potential review.
“(Secretary Zinke) said, ‘You’re not going to be on the list if you are less than 100,000 acres’ but I didn’t push him on it,” St. Clair said. “I also think a review is not the end of the world because I believe they will find we did have stakeholder input and it is benefiting the local economy. I’m not particularly concerned about that at all.”