AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has sent letters to President Barack Obama and Maine’s congressional delegation to express opposition to as-yet unreleased proposals that would apply national monument protections to federal land in the Gulf of Maine and land eyed for a national park in the Millinocket area.
According to LePage, the federal government is considering new monument designations under the provisions of the Antiquities Act, which LePage suggests should be reformed. He argued that national monument designations for the two areas would harm Maine’s economy by putting some of its natural resources off limits.
LePage also suggested that one of the proposals — which is little more than rumor at this point — seeks to pursue a national park that has already been rejected in straw poll votes in East Millinocket and Medway.
“I am hearing more and more that national park proponents are considering seeking a national monument designation after their proposal was defeated at the polls in Medway and East Millinocket,” wrote LePage in an Aug. 28 letter to Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree. “A national monument designation makes Maine timber off limits to the forest products industry.”
David Farmer, a political columnist for the Bangor Daily News, also is a spokesman and consultant for Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., which is trying to grow support for a national park or conservation area in the Katahdin region on land it wants to donate.
“What the governor is reacting to is the frustration that supporters of the national park have about the unwillingness of the congressional delegation to move forward with legislation to create a national park,” said Farmer. “We are continuing to have conversations with people in the Katahdin region and more broadly across the state about why a national park and recreation area are important. We’re talking about 450 to 1,000 jobs.”
Farmer said that national parks and national monuments are different on many levels, including that creating a national park requires an act of Congress while creating a national monument can be accomplished by the president and executive branch. Farmer said he is unaware of any organized interest from the Obama administration in creating a national monument in the Katahdin region but that some people closer to Maine favor it.
Farmer did acknowledge that creating a national monument is often a precursor to a national park designation.
As for a National Marine Monument in the Gulf of Maine, LePage wrote to Obama to register his opposition and requested information about the process moving forward.
“Fundamentally, I oppose this power because it is so sweeping and provides few procedural protections to those who are likely to be most affected,” wrote LePage to Obama. “In addition to my general objections to this power, I am also opposed to the specific project in question that looks to designate Cashes Ledge and undersea canyons and seamounts in the Gulf of Maine as a national monument. These National Marine Monuments serve only one purpose — excluding commercial fishing activity from certain segments of the ocean.”
Cashes Ledge, located about 80 miles east of Cape Ann in Massachusetts, is an underwater mountain range where a unique blend of nutrients, oxygen and sunlight support a variety of species, according to the Conservation Law Foundation.
Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Maine operations, said a biggest-in-the-Atlantic kelp forest in the area is one of the last known refuges for Atlantic cod, a once plentiful fish in the Gulf of Maine that has seen its numbers decimated over the course of decades.
“If cod are ever going to have a chance to rebuild, we’re going to need to protect them,” said Mahoney.
Cashes Ledge, which covers about 500 square miles and extends for about 80 miles across the ocean floor, has been closed to commercial groundfishing for 13 years, according to Mahoney, though lobstering and harvesting of some other fish, such as herring, still happens.
Mahoney said that in 2014, Cashes Ledge accounted for about 0.06 percent of the overall lobster catch in New England, worth about $100,000. For comparison, the New England lobster harvest in 2013 equaled nearly 150 million pounds and was worth about $460 million.
The foundation is working to protect the area from bottom-trawling fishing methods. Mahoney said his organization and others suggested Cashes Ledge for a Marine National Monument after the Obama administration asked for suggestions more than a year ago.
“This is about seizing the opportunity to say that this is an amazing place to preserve for the people of Maine,” said Mahoney. “Although we would have loved to have had the governor’s support, the governor raises some philosophical and process questions that are totally appropriate to be raised. … We just don’t agree that it’s going to have a significant impact on commercial activity in light of what the current commercial activity is.”
Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts off Cape Cod are favored to become Marine National Monuments by the Conservation Law Foundation, the National Geographic Society, Pew Charitable Trusts, National Resources Defense Council and the New England Aquarium. Those groups are gathering on Wednesday at the New England Aquarium in Boston to support the project.
According to The Wilderness Society, national monuments are lands or historic areas that are given permanent protection by Congress or the president through the Antiquities Act. Examples of national monuments include the Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado and the Statue of Liberty in New York City. National monuments, of which there are more than 100 in the U.S. but none in Maine, are managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Obama declared three national monuments in California, Nevada and Texas in July. He has declared or expanded at least nine national monuments since 2013.