KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Maine — Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Wednesday hinted support for retaining federal control of Maine’s national monument, but did not address whether he would recommend that President Donald Trump rescind its status or make major changes to it.

Zinke did not appear to favor turning the land over to private or state ownership — for which Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep Bruce Poliquin have pressed — saying that he was “not an advocate for the transfer of public lands.”

Speaking atop a lookout at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Zinke also said that dividing the monument’s assets into different classifications, like he recommended as part of shrinking the much larger Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, would not be wise.

“Scaling back, I don’t think, makes a lot of sense from here,” Zinke said Wednesday.

Zinke is visiting Maine as part of his review of 27 national monuments designated by then-Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to see if they violated the Antiquities Act or lacked adequate public input. He is expected to submit the final report in mid-August.

Among the issues is whether the Katahdin monument was created without adequate public input.

Critics say President Barack Obama ignored local stakeholders when he designated the land east of Baxter State Park last August and that the monument has no great environmental or cultural value. Proponents say that stakeholders support the monument and that its unique features are already helping the moribund Katahdin region economy.

Zinke indicated his review is far more than a poll of stakeholders. Accompanied by Lucas St. Clair, whose family donated the parcels to the federal government, and monument Superintendent Tim Hudson, Zinke frequently mentioned infrastructure as among his concerns.
He also had dinner with LePage the night before and called the meeting cordial.

At one point, having disembarked from the caravan of rented vehicles for a photo opportunity, Zinke shook a monument sign to ensure that it was planted well. He noted that park managers were barely into their three years of assembling the monument’s management plan, but he seemed very interested in ensuring that everything about Katahdin Woods was in good working order.

“If it says ‘Department of the Interior’ on it, I expect the experience to be five-star,” Zinke said.

Building greater trust in the federal government is another goal, Zinke said. He said he didn’t see any great divides between LePage’s goal of sustaining jobs in the area and the St. Clair family’s desire to preserve the land.

Zinke said he wants to ensure that logging, hunting and other activities remain strong in the area and suggested that a good management formula would satisfy all sides.

“I’m an optimist,” Zinke said. “You talk to all sides and you find that everyone loves the land. Everyone wants access, everyone loves traditional use.”

“[With] the one-size-fits-all model, sometimes you find that it doesn’t fit anything,” he added. “I am confident that there’s a path forward.”

Zinke wryly dismissed Maine Attorney General Janet Mills’ threat to sue the Trump administration should it reverse Obama’s executive order saying he had sued himself several times while in public office.

Zinke’s itinerary calls for him on Thursday to eat breakfast with local government leaders and the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, which supports the monument, before meeting with the Penobscot Indian Nation, which endorsed the monument, and Maine Woods Coalition, which opposes it.