U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin often frames his primary concern about the possible establishment of a national monument in the Katahdin region as one of process and that the decision is locally driven.
Too bad his actions suggest otherwise.
Poliquin has shown utter contempt for the locally driven efforts of area landowners, businesses, residents and civic organizations seeking a monument designation from the president — not to mention polling last year that indicated 67 percent of residents in the 2nd Congressional District support that designation.
Worse, the congressman has chosen to place this matter in the hands of a pair of Utah lawmakers known for their zealous opposition to public lands.
By requesting the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee hold a field hearing on the monument proposal, Poliquin engaged the powerful chair of that committee, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop.
Bishop is not exactly an impartial arbitrator on the issue of monument designation. In fact, he is the nation’s most notorious monument opponent. For years, Bishop has been attacking the Antiquities Act and trying to eliminate the president’s authority to designate monuments.
For those who don’t know, the Antiquities Act is a 110-year-old Republican invention that was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt to help safegualtural treasures. Roosevelt used it to protect icons like the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods and the Petrified Forest.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson, responding to a similar local push in Maine, used it to create Sieur de Monts National Monument, which we all know and love as Acadia National Park.
In case anyone is unsure where Bishop stands, here is what he told the Western State Land Commissioners Association conference last summer in Moab, Utah: “If anyone here likes the Antiquities Act the way it is written, die. I need stupidity out of the gene pool.” He then referred to the popular 110-year-old law as “ the most evil act ever invented.”
It was no surprise, then, that the Bishop-Poliquin field hearing back in June was carefully orchestrated, using a few cherry-picked witnesses, to spotlight monument opposition. But in the public forum that followed, the two congressmen got an earful from monument supporters, who vastly outnumbered opponents.
Such details got lost in the news release from the House Natural Resources Committee issued after the hearing, which falsely proclaimed, “Potential Monument Designation Met with Overwhelming Local Resistance.” Bishop has never been one to let facts or public opinion get in the way of his agenda — an unprecedented effort to reverse the Roosevelt land stewardship ethic that has guided our nation for more than a century.
Another Utah lawmaker Poliquin has enlisted to stymie the prospects of the national monument is Chris Stewart, who along with Bishop created the Federal Land Action Group to advance the radical goal of surrendering most of America’s public lands to state and private interests.
Stewart was successful at getting language in the House budget bill for the Interior Department that would, should it became law, prohibit the establishment of national monuments in 48 counties — 47 of which are located in western states. The lone county included east of the Rocky Mountains is Penobscot County, Maine.
The Utah congressman was clearly acting at Poliquin’s behest.
The 87,500 acres of spectacular North Woods that Elliotsville Plantation Inc. is offering to donate for public use as a national monument is a remarkable gift to the Katahdin region, the state of Maine and the nation. It represents the same kind of vision and generosity that a century ago made Acadia possible.
It also offers a unique economic boost to a region that desperately needs one.
Poliquin’s assertion that national monument status would take these owner-protected acres “offline from productive economic use forever” is ludicrous. Just ask the residents of Bar Harbor how economically productive Acadia National Park lands are.
By involving Bishop and Stewart and making Maine part of their western anti-monument crusade, Poliquin is putting this amazing economic lifeline in jeopardy.
And, ironically, by poisoning any prospect for Congress to fairly or promptly act on it, he has ensured that the president’s use of his Antiquities Act authority is the only viable path forward.
David Jenkins is the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national nonprofit organization that promotes natural resource conservation.