By Scott Thistle
Gov. Paul LePage joined President Trump in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday as he signed an executive order to review national monuments that are part of the National Park Service system.
But it's unclear whether the order will apply to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Penobscot County, which President Obama established over LePage's objections in August 2016. The order calls for a review of national monuments created since Jan. 1, 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres, and the Katahdin monument encompasses only 87,600 acres.
However, the order also provides for a review if the Secretary of the Interior determines that a monuments designation or expansion "was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders."
LePage's communication's director, Peter Steele, said in an email that "The Executive Order covers a review of Katahdin Woods because at least two local referendums and the Maine State Legislature voted against it."
Trump introduced LePage at Wednesday's ceremony, joking about the Maine governor's recent dramatic weight loss, the result of bariatric surgery LePage underwent in September of 2016. LePage campaigned with Trump during two of the Republican president's four visits to the state during the presidential campaign.
"I knew him when he was heavy and now I know him when he is thin and I like him both ways, OK?" Trump said.
LePage said this week that he would travel to Washington next week to testify next week at an oversight hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources on the consequences of "executive branch overreach of the Antiquities Act." The governor made no mention of his trip Wednesday to attend the ceremony with Trump, but he did say he was going to ask Trump to have the state's Baxter State Park Authority manage the new national monument in Maine.
A tweet from LePage's official Twitter account captured a television image of LePage in the office of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, where Trump was signing the order. "Glad to be with President Trump for the signing of his Antiquities Executive Order," LePage tweeted. On Monday, LePage was in Fort Kent, and his trip to Washington was not announced.
Obama created the monument after conservationist Roxanne Quimby donated the forest land near Millinocket and Baxter State Park to the federal government. Opponents to the designation, including LePage, have been critical of putting more working forest land into public ownership and conservation.
The monument lies in an area that was once the heart of Maine's logging and papermaking industry but now faces an uncertain economic future. Within hours of the designation, the National Park Service was in the process of opening offices in the Katahdin region while inviting visitors to discover the monument's "rivers, streams, woods, flora, fauna, geology, and the night skies that have attracted humans for millennia."
Cathy Johnson, a senior staff attorney and the director of the woods and wildlife project for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said there was ample public participation for Maine's monument.
"Suggesting that there was insufficient public process in the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is ludicrous," Johnson wrote in an email to the Press Herald. "There were five years of meetings, debates, presentations and conversations."
Johnson said a public hearing set up by U.S. Sen. Angus King and attended by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in Orono drew 1,400 people, with about 1,200 offering support for the monument. She also said the public forum set up by Poliquin and attended by Bishop saw supporters of the monument outnumber opponents by a 4:1 ratio.
She also reiterated the monument, as established, guarantees access for hunting and snowmobiling as a direct result of public input from those forums and hearings.
Pleased to support President Trump's efforts to review the federal government's massive land grab from the American people. #mepolitics pic.twitter.com/pyk82pchme
-- Paul R. LePage (@Governor_LePage) April 26, 2017
LePage on Monday incorrectly said the monument did not allow for hunting or motorized recreation. Hunting and motorized recreation is prohibited in most of Baxter State Park, which is adjacent to the national monument.
"Gov. LePage has never visited the monument and has never talked to the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce or any of the many, many businesses in the Katahdin region who support the monument and are, in fact, now starting to reap the economic benefit of having a nationally branded natural area near their community," Johnson wrote. "The monument is the best stimulus for economic development the Katahdin region has seen in years."
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, traveled to Maine last summer to hear from opponents of the Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument at the request of Maine's 2nd District U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin, also a Republican. Bishop visited East Millinocket, a meeting that was also attended by LePage.
Bishop praised Trump's executive order in a statement released Wednesday.
"Today's action sends the powerful message that communities will no longer take a back seat to out-of-state special interest groups," Bishop said. "I'm pleased to see President Trump recognize long-standing abuses of the Antiquities Act. It was created with noble intent and for limited purposes, but has been hijacked to set aside increasingly large and restricted areas of land without public input."
The Antiquities Act, passed into law in 1906, authorizes the president to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict how the lands can be used.
Zinke, the interior secretary, told the Associated Press that the order, which Trump will sign during a visit to his department, will cover several dozen monuments across the country designated since 1996 that total 100,000 acres or more, from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah to the Bears Ears in southeastern Utah.
He'll provide an interim report in 45 days in which he'll provide a recommendation on Bears Ears and a final report within 120 days.
Over the last 20 years, Zinke said, tens of millions of acres have been designated as national monuments, limiting their use for farming, timber harvesting, mining and oil and gas exploration, and other commercial uses.
Though "by and large," Zinke said, he feels the designations have done "a great service to the public," he said he worries about overuse and overreach.
"I think the concern that I have and the president has is that when you designate a monument, the local community affected should have a voice," he said.
(c)2017 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)