By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
With a smiling Gov. Paul LePage looking on, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order telling the U.S. Department of the Interior to review at least two dozen national monuments created by presidential decree — likely including Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
The order calls for the review of monuments 100,000 acres or larger, created since 1996 by presidents and those, regardless of size, that the Secretary of the Interior determines were designated “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is 87,563 acres, but was created on Aug. 24, 2016, and many Katahdin region stakeholders have complained bitterly that their wishes were ignored.
The review does not immediately threaten monuments, but appeared to reignite the interminable and deeply divisive Katahdin region debate that started in 2011 when businesswoman Roxanne Quimby publicly announced her intent to donate family-owned land to the National Park Service.
A Department of the Interior spokeswoman could not say with certainty whether the Katahdin monument would face a review and declined to comment on what criteria the agency would use to make its decision.
“It could be reviewed if the governor, elected officials and local communities feel as though their voices were not properly consulted in the process,” spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email.
LePage spokesman Peter Steele said the executive order applies to Katahdin Woods “because at least two local referendums and the Maine State Legislature voted against it. The people who live in the area and the Maine State Legislature are relevant stakeholders,” he said in an email.
In his announcement, Trump said he wanted to give power back to states.
“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control — have you heard about that? — eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land,” Trump said Wednesday. “It’s a big thing.”
It remains unclear whether a president can rescind an executive order creating a monument. Trump ordered the review to discern whether the size and scope of the targeted monuments are within the intent of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Trump administration has indicated that reversals might be possible under a clause in the law that confines monuments to ”the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
The administration created confusion by failing to list Katahdin Woods and Waters on an executive order fact sheet. And Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seemed to exclude Maine’s when he told reporters Tuesday that his department would review monuments only if they were 100,000 acres or more in size.
The confusion prompted statements Wednesday in which U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said she was glad Katahdin Woods would be excluded. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said a review “would be a step backward.” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she hasn’t “heard anything from the White House that indicates that the Katahdin monument is on the list of those to be reviewed.”
Collins said she would like to see changes to the Antiquities Act to give state governments more say on monument designation. But area businesses have started to see gains because of the monument and reopening a “bitter and divisive debate” would be the wrong move, she said.
“At this point, my view is it’s best to look forward,” Collins said.
LePage’s presence and influence signaled strongly that the Trump administration planned to review Katahdin Woods. Trump mentioned LePage — specifically that he had lost weight — and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in remarks made before the signing at the U.S. Department of Interior offices.
“I am pleased to be joined by so many members of Congress and governors who have been waiting for this moment,” Trump said.
But based on Trump’s comments, the order appears to target two Utah monuments created by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. In December alone, 1.35 million acres of Utah land were seized by the federal government “over the profound objections” of Utah residents, Trump said.
“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power,” Trump said.
The Obama administration’s executive orders designating monuments placed 265 million acres under federal control, Trump said — an area larger than Texas.
Leading monument proponent Lucas St. Clair said the monument shouldn’t be reviewed since he held many meetings with local stakeholders.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, also held public meetings, in the region and at the University of Maine, prior to the designation.
Park service officials also held several post-designation meetings in which they have begun to shape a monument management plan.
“This monument was the right size and its size and uses came from tremendous public outreach,” St. Clair said. “If the governor doesn’t think so, all he has to do is look back at the public meetings held by us.”
BDN Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.