On Tuesday Gov. Paul LePage issued a dire warning to Congress that if the federal government doesn’t rescind the designation of 87,500 acres of forest land in the North Woods as a National Monument, there will be “catastrophic” wildfires. Eight months ago, President Obama ordered that the land east of Baxter State Park be designated as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, but LePage is lobbying Washington to reverse the decision. 

“I fear that the visitors of Mount Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will become uninspired by this portion of cut-over forest land,” said LePage before a House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee. “There will be an unmanageable surge of demand to Baxter State Park.... After former President Obama designated the National Monument, Maine residents started to feel the negative effects to having the federal government as their new master.”

The governor said there has been traffic congestion and near-vehicle collisions around the monument and expressed fears that ATV riders would lose access to trails in the area. The governor dismissed the view that tourists will want to visit the new National Monument, arguing that most of the 40 million visitors Maine receives will go to the coast and not the “mosquito area.” He  added that preserving forest is “devastating” because “a forest is like a garden” and if “not properly managed” it’ll get weeds, blowdowns and deadwood, which could cause wildfires. The governor said “good stewardship” of a forest should include logging, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling — in fact, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling are actually allowed in parts of the monument’s former timberland.

At one point in the hearing, Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California noted that the governor painted a “fairly dark picture” of the impact out-of-state visitors would bring to the National Monument.

“You talked about them being uninspired by the cut-over land, maybe spilling over and overburdening the nearby state park,” said Huffman. “You talked about traffic and safety implications. It was almost reminiscent of your more colorful statements about outsiders coming into Maine and causing other problems.” 

“You mean drug problems,” LePage replied.

“I did note a similar theme…” said Huffman.

“People die every day, sir,” LePage fired back.

“You didn’t mention them impregnating young white girls as you did previously, but certainly you’re laying a lot of blame on outsiders coming into Maine,” said Huffman, referencing the governor’s racist comments about black drug dealers last year, “and I noted that you didn’t talk about any benefits at all to this National Monument designation. Do you see no economic benefits, no benefits at all?”

The governor responded that Acadia National Park has nearly $60 million in deferred maintenance and he feared that it would soon burn down like it did in 1947 because it’s “not properly managed.” 

During the same hearing, Elliotsville Plantation Inc. President Lucas St. Clair, whose family donated the land along with a $40 million endowment, noted that 72 percent of Mainers support the monument, according to an October Critical Insights poll. He said that economic development in the North Woods isn’t a “zero-sum game” and that the forest products industry and tourism can work “hand-in-hand.” He added that real estate prices are already rebounding and jobs are being created, along with a $5 million outdoor recreational school. 

“Katahdin Woods and Waters is a beautiful and amazing place and much more than just views of Mount Katahdin or ‘cut-over land’ as Gov. LePage has suggested,” said St. Clair. “It’s culturally and historically significant both to the history of logging and to Maine’s Native American communities, who consider the area sacred. Katahdin Woods and Waters Monument is a model of how the Antiquities Act should work.”

Snowmelt Washes Away the Trash

On the same day, the Maine House overrode LePage’s veto of a bill that establishes the first Saturday in May as “Maine Community Litter Cleanup Day” by a vote of 109-36. In his veto letter, the governor complained that it “forces” him to issue a proclaimation and that he doesn’t believe that Mainers need a “special day to tell them not to litter.”

“If I were in favor of proclaiming special days in an effort to remind Mainers of their civic responsibilities, which I surely am not, then I would think that a Maine Community Litter Day would be best sometime in the fall before the arrival of snow and its subsequent thaw,” wrote LePage.   “During the thaw, litter is known to be washed away.  Because of this, I do not think that the bill is practical.”