A congressional subcommittee heard two starkly contrasting views about the recent designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine.
Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken opponent, and Lucas St. Clair, its chief supporter, were among four panelists invited to speak to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands about past use of the Antiquities Act to create national monuments like the one in Maine. Republican committee members made it clear that they’d like to see the act and the monuments dismantled.
Under President Barack Obama, more than 553 million acres of land and waters were declared national monuments, including Katahdin Woods and Waters last summer. Republican Chairman Tom McClintock of California says that’s an area equivalent to the states of Texas, California, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona combined, and he set the tone for the hearing with his opening remarks.
“As we’ll hear, these designations were often imposed in spite of local opposition, without consultation with Congress or the state and local governments affected, and without regard to the economic damage these designations have had on surrounding communities,” he says.
But the economic, environmental and cultural values of national monuments are often a matter of perspective.
For LePage, the 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a travesty, because of what he says is a lack of public support — he told the committee most Mainers oppose it; because of a poor record of management by the National Park Service; and because of what he says is the poor condition of the land that was once a working forest adjacent to Baxter State Park.
“I fear that if the visitors of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument become uninspired by this portion of cutover forest land, there will be an unmanageable surge of demand to Baxter State Park,” he says.
LePage also complained about the effect of increased vehicle traffic. In fact, he says, the only major selling point of the monument is the view of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, a place he calls “one of the most beautiful wilderness parks east of the Rockies.”
He then went on to characterize Baxter as a “working forest,” though of the the park’s 200,000 acres, timber harvesting is only allowed on 29,000 acres.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman of California took issue with what he says was the governor’s “fairly dark picture” of the effects of out-of-state visitors, a topic that has previously landed the governor in national headlines when speaking about out-of-state drug dealers.
“It was almost reminiscent of one of your more colorful statements about outsiders coming into Maine and causing other problems,” he says.
“You’re talking about the drug problem comment?” LePage says.
“I did note a similar theme,” Huffman says.
“People die everyday, sir,” LePage says.
“You didn’t mention impregnating young, white girls as you did previously,” Huffman says.
After a continued testy exchange, Huffman asked LePage whether there was any economic benefit to the monument.
“Not in this area. Not in my lifetime. Not until this forest grows up again,” LePage says.
But Lucas St. Clair, the head of the philanthropic organization that donated the land to the federal government, says in the eight months since the monument’s creation, economic activity is already picking up steam in the Katahdin region, fueled by an influx of visitors.
“Businesses are starting to grow and expand. Jobs are being created. Real estate prices have started to rebound. And there’s new, significant private-sector investments, including plans for a $5 million outdoor recreational school underway,” he says.
St. Clair challenged the governor’s assertion that there is no public support for the monument. Statewide polls, he says, have repeatedly shown that Mainers like it, including one last fall that found 72 percent of Mainers are in favor. And he pointed to endorsements from civic groups, from area chambers of commerce and from more than 200 Maine businesses.
St. Clair told the panel that public support has been built through extensive public meetings over many years.
After the hearing, the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources issued a press release outlining what he called the “devastating social and economic consequences of Antiquities designations.” Supporters vowed that they will not go down without a fight.