MILLINOCKET, Maine — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to allow trees to be cut on parts of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and to ensure that “traditional uses” like snowmobiling and hunting are taken into account in a management plan that’s being drawn up.
It was unclear what Zinke meant when he recommended “active timber management” to promote a healthy forest on the 87,500-acre (35,410-hectare) property. But an environmental group said commercial logging would “almost certainly” trigger a lawsuit.
“Commercial logging could cause substantial harm to the natural resources protected by the monument and to the economic and recreation benefits already emerging at Katahdin Woods and Waters,” said Lisa Pohlmann of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose district contains the land, said Zinke’s recommendations “strike the right balance in protecting Maine jobs and our way of life.”
But Lucas St. Clair, whose family donated the land, said he’s concerned that the recommendations could undermine compromises that took years to negotiate with local interests.
“We worked tirelessly for years to strike a balance,” St. Clair said Monday, noting that deeds allow for some hunting and that there are 32 miles (51 kilometers) of snowmobile trails.
All told, Zinke recommended that six of 27 national monuments under review by President Donald Trump’s administration be reduced in size, with changes proposed to several others, including Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine.
His recommendations are included in a memo sent to the president last month and leaked to news organizations including The Associated Press.
The administration will have the final say. Trump has referred to monuments created by past presidents as a “massive federal land grab.”
The Maine land consists of mountains, streams and ponds next to Baxter State Park, home of Mount Katahdin, the state’s tallest mountain. The land includes riverfront along the East Branch of the Penobscot River and stunning views of Katahdin.
For now, getting there is a challenge because there are no paved roads, and Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent, hasn’t made it easier by refusing to allow signs to be placed on main highways including Interstate 95.
Even so, several dozen vehicles, some with license plates from distant states, traveled the rustic loop road last weekend.
The land was donated by a foundation set up by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of the Burt’s Bees line of personal care products.
St. Clair, Quimby’s son, said it was unclear in Zinke’s recommendation if he was referring to commercial logging or selective cutting to ensure a healthy forest. Much of the land was logged before Quimby bought it.
Many local residents initially opposed Quimby’s proposal, mostly because of distrust of the federal government and fears that federal regulations would stymie economic development centered on the wood products industry. But some attitudes changed as paper mills in nearby Millinocket and East Millinocket closed for unrelated reasons.
More residents are now more open to federal ownership of the land, hoping that a bump in visitors could provide an economic jolt to the region.
For now, there’s a cloud over the monument.
“Uncertainty is not good for us. Uncertainly continues to dampen enthusiasm and investment for diversifying our economy around the building block that the monument in its original configuration provided us,” said Matt Polstein, owner of the New England Outdoors Center.