It’s rich political theater, watching the ongoing debate over a possible national park in Maine’s North Woods as well as the long-running efforts to resolve land-use practices on millions of federal acres in Utah. Boasts have been made, promises allegedly discarded, and no resolution in either state has been made.
Seemingly ignored have been residents of the two states, as the politicians opposing a new national park in Maine and those opposed to a new national monument in Utah are ignoring majorities who have voiced support for both. About the only thing that has been assured through the sound bites, letter writing, and draft legislation is that neither issue will be resolved soon.
Maine North Woods –Letter writing and bluster have been the latest developments in the years-long debate over whether Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby can hand over some 100,000 acres of her private property to the National Park Service for a North Woods park adjacent to Baxter State Park, one that would have spectacular views of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Last week Maine Gov. Paul LePage directed the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to reestablish a road through Ms. Quimby’s lands to state-owned lands within her tract. In issuing that order, the governor said the state-owned acreage were “threatened by efforts to create a National Park/National Monument in the Millinocket area.”
“Despite lack of local support and lack of support from members of Maine’s Congressional delegation, this proposal has now changed direction,” said Governor LePage in a release. “Through the use of high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., the Quimby family has focused its efforts on lobbying the Obama Administration, seeking to have the President use sweeping authority granted to him under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate this area a National Monument.”
While the governor maintained there was lack of local support for a national park or monument, a survey last summer of the congressional district that would be most affected by creation of a Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park and National Recreation Area overwhelmingly voiced support for it. And according to the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, a recent statewide survey found that 60 percent of Maine residents support the idea.
In response to the governor’s directive, Ms. Quimby said if the state wants to upgrade its right-of-way to reach the 2,500 acres, she won’t object. “The [right of way] to the public land cited by the governor has never been denied,” she said Saturday. “With little wood of commercial value to harvest, the [right of way] has not been maintained by the state. If the state wishes to upgrade its [right of way] to begin a harvesting operation, so be it. No argument from us.”
Meanwhile, three members of Maine’s congressional delegation were miffed with a response National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote to address their concerns that the president might turn to the Antiquities Act to create a monument. In their letter to the president (attached) sent in November, the delegation urged him not to turn to his pen to establish a monument but rather to send “financial support for research to back the development and use of wood products and fibers, advanced engineering projects that use wood, and support for policies that will create strong markets for wood products.”
The three — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Jr., and Rep Bruce Poliquin — went on to say that if the president was determined to designate a monument, he should direct in his proclamation that all currently allowed recreational uses in Maine be permitted in the monument, that “proper forest management, including timber harvesting,” be allowed, that all state or private lands adjacent to a monument continue to have easements and rights-of-way (e.g., roads), with “freedom from view shed, air quality, or buffer zone regulations or requirements.”
In short, the delegation doesn’t want any monument to come with limitations on how the land would be maintained or accessed.In responding to the politicians for the president, Director Jarvis pointed out the economic benefits of a national park.”Last year, the National Park Service recorded 305 million visitors to the (National Park) System, which generated over $16 billion into the economies of communities within 60 miles of parks,” he wrote in his letter (attached). “… The NPS experience has been that such influxes of new visitors result in the launching (of) new businesses to start, such as food and beverage, lodging, guides and outfitters, and camping and outdoor supply. Often local entertainment and other attractions appear in neighboring areas. Land values often increase as well.”
That said, the director added, there can be challenges and negative impacts associated with an NPS property. “The DOI (Department of the Interior) looks forward to the opportunity to better understand these and other issues as you continue to solicit public input and lead this option dialogue about how best to protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region. We also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights, for your communities if the Federal Government received a land donation for a park or similar use,” he wrote.
The politicians weren’t mollified, however, and took exception that Director Jarvis didn’t respond directly to their requirements concerning state and private property rights, access, logging, and recreational activities, as well as state management oversight for any monument.“These conditions are critical to ensuring that future economic activities in the Katahdin region are not stifled by burdensome regulations that upset the Maine tradition of multi-use working forests,” Sens. Collins and King wrote.
Utah Public Lands – When U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz last month released their long-awaited Public Lands Initiative for designating wilderness, releasing lands from wilderness consideration, expanding Arches National Park, and basically deciding how millions of federal acres in eastern Utah should be managed, they said there was a lot to like, and a lot not to like, in the draft legislation. Those who have found aspects not to like have been vocal lately.
In their response to Rep. Bishop, the Grand Canyon Trust pretty much rejected the draft in its entirety. Our opposition is rooted in the fact that the PLI does not represent a positive, solution-oriented step toward resolving land use and land tenure matters in eastern Utah. Chief among the harms contained in PLI are: management language not found elsewhere in law that undermines new wilderness and national conservation areas; special management areas and canyon country recreation zones that weaken existing protections; release and hard release of millions of acres of deserving potential wilderness; disposal of lands far in excess of standards set forth by the Public Purposes and Recreation Act; a wildly unbalanced and unfair SITLA state land exchange; creation of “energy zones” in excess of 2.5 million acres where multiple-use land management principles are cast aside and the reality of climate change is unacknowledged; excessive grants of RS 2477 road claims and a Book Cliffs Highway corridor to the State of Utah; hobbling of livestock management necessary to conserve ecosystems and species; inadequate provisions respecting sovereign Native American tribes with regard to protection and management of the Bears Ears cultural landscape; and the stated goal of the authors of PLI to place limitations on the President’s authority to use the Antiquities Act of 1906.
At the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Sharon Buccino, the group’s director for its Land and Wildlife Program, wrote the two Republicans that their vision “does not represent the values of the diverse stakeholders that have been engaged.”
Some of our greatest concerns with the PLI discussion draft include:
* Provisions that would undermine the integrity of the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act;
* Language that would undercut the management of proposed wilderness areas, national conservation areas, special management areas, and recreation zones;
* Unprecedented giveaways to the State of Utah, including the sanctioning of questionable R.S. 2477 claims and the establishment of 10,000 miles of unnecessary public roads;
* Designation of over 2.5 million acres of energy zones that will allow development to override other considerations;
* Insufficient protections for critical cultural resources, including provisions that would allow San Juan County to supersede sovereign tribal considerations;
* The hard release of over two million acres of public land, much of it wilderness quality land that should be permanently safeguarded.
The PLI discussion draft, as it now stands, is a missed opportunity to resolve longstanding issues that deserve a more deliberative approach—one that fully assimilates input from stakeholders who have been historically invested in how these critical public lands should be managed and safeguarded for generations to come.
As to what Utah residents want, a survey earlier this year by Colorado College found that 47 percent of the respondents oppose giving federal lands to the state, and that 65 percent “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” a “Bears Ears National Monument” that would protect some 1.9 million acres “in large part to protect cliff dwellings and sacred American Indian sites.”
Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz have opposed such a monument, and instead have called for a 1.2-million-acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area.Last week the entire Utah congressional delegation wrote President Obama urged him not to designate the Bears Ears National Monument. In their letter, the delegation stated that “(F)ederal land-use policy has a major impact on the lives of those residing within and near federal lands. We believe the wisest land-use decisions are made with community involvement and local support.”
If 65 percent support isn’t enough, how much is?
This article was written by Kurt Repanshek Editor and Founder of the National Park Traveler and was first published on February 15th, 2016 in the Traveler’s Newsletter.