Interior Secretary's Decision On Katahdin Woods and Waters Nat'l Monument Imminent

Aug 23, 2017

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks with reporters with part of Mount Katahdin in the background at the Katahdin Woods And Waters National Monument near Staceyville, Maine, Wednesday, June 14, 2017.
Credit Patrick Whittle / AP Photo

Sometime in the next 24 hours, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is expected to recommend what, if any, changes he thinks should be made to Maine’s Katahdin Woods and

Waters National Monument. Friday marks the one year anniversary since the monument’s designation by President Obama and supporters have a celebration and fundraiser planned. But the party could turn into a strategy session depending on Zinke’s decision.

Katahdin Woods and Waters is one of 27 monuments that came under review by order of President Trump in April. Monuments created by previous presidents since 1996, larger than 100,000 acres in size or those that were perceived by Trump as having insufficient public participation made the list.

Since then Zinke has completed reviews of six of them without making any changes. He didn’t offer much insight about why. But during a visit to Maine’s monument in June he gave some strong hints about what he might recommend here.

“We have an opportunity to do something different here,” Zinke said in June. “And you can harvest timber, you can hunt, you can respect traditional uses in the confines of a monument or a park.”

FILE - In this August 2015 file photo, a rain storm passes over Mt. Katahdin in this view from land that is now the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine.
Credit Robert F. Bukaty / AP Photo/File

Currently managed by the National Park Service, the monument does not allow commercial timber harvesting on its nearly 88,000 acres. Hunting is restricted to certain areas, As are snowmobiles and ATVS. And that bothers Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

“We’d like to see some rational management of it,” Meyers says. “I mean it’s kind of a big nothing-burger right now. You know, we and many other groups advocated for having the state of Maine manage it.”

In written comments to the federal government, Meyers’ group, along with the Maine Forest Products Council, argued that the state of Maine has the expertise and knows the lay of the land when it comes to traditional uses of the property. But most of the 192,000 comments received, more than 99% of them, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, support keeping the monument the way it is.

“So we hope that they will, essentially, leave it alone as the public has asked,” says Cathy Johnson, a senior staff attorney with the NRCM.

She says increased tourism in the Katahdin region has helped local businesses over the past year. She says allowing certain activities like logging in the monument or changing how it’s managed could turn those visitors away. And there’s another looming issue: whether the Interior Department has the legal authority to undertake such action.

“If they try and do some of these things just on their own we will definitely be looking at our legal options ‘cause we don’t think they have the legal authority to do that,” Johnson says.

FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, the Wassataquoik Stream flows through Township 3, Range 8, Maine, on land owned by environmentalist Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt's Bees personal care products company. Quimby's foundation donated the area in August 2016 to the federal government for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Credit Robert F. Bukaty / AP Photo/File

During his June visit to Maine, Secretary Zinke told reporters he was confident there was a way forward with the monument. This is a part of the state that has been pummeled by the loss of papermaking jobs and mills. Some residents, along with Gov. Paul LePage, take issue with the fact that philanthropist and Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby was able to purchase the property from a former timber company and fulfill her dream to donate it to the federal government for creation as either a national park or monument. LePage has described the property as a “mosquito infested” wasteland. And he said its monument designation by President Obama.

“[It] demonstrates that rich, out-of-state liberals can force their unpopular agenda on the Maine people against their will,” LePage said in June. But Zinke says the two sides are not far apart.

“I think you have to respect the local culture and work together because this property and this investment is worth finding a plan that everyone get along with,” Zinke said in June.

That may be a tall order. As part of the gift to the federal government, the Quimby family’s foundation included a $20-million dollar endowment with a pledge to raise another $20-million more. The family has indicated that that gift would be rescinded if significant changes are made to their vision for the land.