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Leaked Recommendations For Maine Monument Met With Confusion

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press/file
The Wassataquoik Stream flows through Township 3, Range 8, through land that's now part of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Supporters of Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument say a leaked memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to the White House is confusing and only creates more economic uncertainty in the region.

Leaked to media outlets three weeks after it was supposed to be made public, the memo recommends downsizing several national monuments and amending others to allow for commercial fishing, timber harvesting and other traditional uses.

In the memo, Zinke proposes to amend the proclamation establishing Katahdin Woods and Waters to “promote a healthy forest through active timber management.” He goes on to say that the monument’s management plan should be revised to prioritize public access, traditional use and hunting and fishing rights.

But there is no completed management plan. The public process for establishing one is currently underway. So Cathy Johnson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says that point needs clarification, and so does Zinke’s vision of timber harvesting.

“If active timber harvesting means, to the Secretary, managing timber to restore a healthy, natural forest, build trails or roads for educational purposes, than that’s all consistent with the monument’s purpose,” she says.

But if Zinke envisions commercial timber harvesting that is similar to what is taking place on industrial forestlands throughout the North Woods, then Johnson says there’s a problem.

“That is not consistent with the intent of the monument and we believe it’s a clear violation of the law,” she says.

Commercial timber harvesting is not permitted in national parks. And that’s why Lucas St. Clair is perplexed by Zinke’s recommendation for Katahdin Woods and Waters.

St. Clair’s family foundation donated the property to the federal government specifically for recreation and conservation “unimpaired for future generations’ enjoyment.” In a recent telephone conversation with Zinke, St. Clair says he was told that any timber harvesting on the property would be limited.

St. Clair says he finds the memo “vague.”

“It really is not clear on how they’re going to do what they’re going to do, and what they’re going to do,” he says.

Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public
Left to right, Lucas St. Clair, local business owner Matt Polstein and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tour Maine's Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in June.

Zinke has proposed reducing the size of at least three national monuments under review by order of President Donald Trump and amending the proclamations of ten of them, including Maine’s.

National environmental groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife, are concerned that some could be opened up for oil and gas exploration and coal mining as well as timber harvesting. In several marine monuments, Zinke is also proposing to allow commercial fishing.

Aimee Delach, a senior policy analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based group, says if the president follows through with the recommendations, a legal response is likely.

“It is our read of the various statutes involved that the president does not have the authority to either revoke or to substantially amend the boundaries, to shrink any monuments,” she says.

In a written statement, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District took issue with the economic uncertainty created by Zinke’s leaked memo. She also criticized what she said was a lack of transparency in the monument review process.

Of the more than 260,000 comments received by the Interior Department on the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, nearly all of them were in support. Fewer than 100 were in opposition. They included Gov. Paul LePage and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District, who welcomed Zinke’s recommendations.

In a written statement, Poliquin said they strike the right balance in protecting Maine jobs and Maine’s way of life.

This story was originally published Sept. 18, 2017 at 12:22 p.m. ET.