By John Holyoke
Bangor Daily News column
After months of nervous hand-wringing, news began to trickle out of Washington, D.C., on Thursday that ought to make many supporters of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument happy.
The review of the monument by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is complete, and first indications, according to those who are familiar with Zinke’s report, are that Maine’s national monument will not be reduced in size, nor eliminated.
One concession that may be under consideration: Some form of limited logging activity in part of the monument.
If that’s the way things turn out as we move forward, that’s a workable compromise.
Exactly a year ago, I wrote about President Barack Obama’s official designation of this land as a national monument. In that column, and as the outdoor columnist for the daily newspaper closest in proximity to the monument, I wanted to make sure that on such a momentous day, the BDN was positioned on the right side of history.
That was a big deal. And the BDN came out in favor of our state’s natural beauty and future economic possibilities, and the celebration of one of the state’s most breathtaking areas.
No, cutting down trees in the monument may not have been part of the plan when the family of millionaire philanthropist Roxanne Quimby donated more than 87,000 acres to the federal government last year.
But all things considered, if limited forestry operations are added to the monument’s management plan, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Forests in transition are good for wildlife, you see. A regenerating forest provides shelter and food for any number of critters, including moose and deer.
Allowing for reasonable harvest in parts of the monument where hunting is allowed, in fact, could be a way to increase the habitat for those animals — ruffed grouse and American woodcock among them — that hunters might be targeting.
But make no mistake about it: While Gov. Paul LePage made it a priority earlier this year to single out neighboring Baxter State Park as a model because some logging is allowed there, LePage has been wrong about what Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is, and seems unwilling to consider what it can be.
In a region that has struggled mightily to recover from the collapse of its paper mills, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is the best news that’s developed in a decade or more.
It gives more folks a reason to visit. It provides a new reason for optimism, and a concrete product — nature, at a national monument — to market and promote worldwide.
The monument, even now, as facilities and infrastructure are planned and built, is not perfect. It is a work in progress.
A simple, but crucial point: This monument is nothing like the wasteland that LePage and others have described. It’s far more than a cut-over forest that’s full of mosquitoes and nothing else of value.
Doubt it? Do yourself a favor. Stop listening to others, hop in your car, and drive to up there for a visit. Though our governor refuses to place tourist-information signs on the roads that lead to the monument, it’s pretty easy to find, and maps do exist.
It is a wild space, full of rivers and streams, hills and mountains, birds and moose and deer and other woodland critters.
It is, quite simply, a great representation of what Maine is. As the monument’s title suggests, it’s woods. And waters.
And it’s special.
Luckily, Zinke seems to have recognized that fact. I was a few paces away from Zinke when he gathered his staffers around him during a June fact-finding visit to the monument lands. The group posed for a photo with magnificent Mount Katahdin in the background.
Nearby, some of us shared subtle winks and nods.
“That was interesting,” I told an acquaintance who had watched the scene unfold. “It would seem that after taking selfies with Katahdin, it’d be pretty hard to write a report asserting why this land didn’t deserve monument status.
Today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Zinke came. He saw. He understood.
Thanks to that — barring any further interference, of course — future generations will get the chance to see exactly why Quimby, her son Lucas St. Clair, and this Secretary of the Interior thought this part of Maine was worth preserving.