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North Woods National Monument Supporters Outnumber Opponents at Local Forum

Susan Sharon
A logging truck in East Millinocket, with the shuttered paper mill looming behind.

It began as a day for invited speakers to denounce a proposed national monument in the Katahdin region and closed with a decisive show of support from local residents and business owners.

Both a congressional field hearing and a public forum sponsored by national monument opponents were billed as a way to elevate local voices. And they appear to have done just that.

Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah told a crowd gathered at the East Millinocket Town Office Wednesday that he’s not against national monuments, he just doesn’t want them created by an executive order of the president.

“I actually have a piece of legislation in my state to create a new national monument. I just want them done the right way, with Congress doing it, so these questions are done ahead of time and not fighting over them 20 years later. Because I’m sorry — people, from my personal experience, have been harmed when a monument is done without proper background and understanding,” he says.

As chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Bishop has a record of opposing federal funding for conservation of land and wildlife as well as new national monuments and national parks. And at his field hearing he invited a handful of speakers who share his views.

Paul Sannicandro, a registered Maine guide and member of the Millinocket Town Council, thinks the proposal by Elliottsville Plantation Inc. to donate nearly 90,000 acres to the federal government is part of a larger plan to create a 3.2 million-acre Maine Woods National Park, despite recent assurances from the director of the National Park Service that it is not.

“The town of Millinocket would be the southeasterly gateway community and the town of Greenville would be to the southwest as a gateway community,” he says.

Other opponents raised concerns about potential limits on access to recreation opportunities and possible interference with efforts to revive a local forest products industry that is in decline.

Credit Susan Sharon / MPBN
At the East Millinocket Town Office, the congressional field hearing was standing room only.

At the conclusion of the 90-minute hearing, Bishop’s committee released a statement saying the proposed monument in Maine lacks support from local residents and that Bishop himself has serious reservations about it. But no sooner had the press release been sent out when local supporters turned out in force for a public forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District.

Jamie Renaud says she and her husband moved to Millinocket nine years ago to start a business.

Credit Susan Sharon / MPBN
U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin of Maine (left to right), Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Rob Bishop of Utah.

“I didn’t know anything about a forest products industry. I didn’t know anything about paper mills. If there’s not a national monument, then what? I think a national monument will help. It will help us diversify because you can’t just do one thing,” she says.

Renaud says she and her husband never would have fallen in love with the area had they not hiked the Appalachian Trail and finished at Mt. Katahdin. She thinks visitors to a national monument would do the same.

Lindsay Downing, who grew up in Mount Chase, says her parents ran a sporting camp there called Mount Chase Lodge. After college out of state, she spent time in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and several other national parks as a guide. But, she says, she and her husband decided to come back home to take over the family business.

Downing says they’re hoping the monument will be a catalyst for the region, which has lost several paper mills over the years.

“Family-run businesses can’t pay the bills solely on one busy snowmobile season a year. We need to be open minded to survive. We must be open minded to thrive,” she says.

By the end of the 3 1/2-hour forum, more than 45 speakers had testified in support of the national monument with only about a dozen opposed.