President’s Obama’s creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument drew passionate responses on all sides Wednesday from political leaders in Maine.

Two members of the state’s congressional delegation, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and independent Sen. Angus King, expressed support for Obama’s designation of about 87,600 acres in the Katahdin region as the latest national monument. Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees who has amassed considerable land holdings in Maine’s North Woods, recently donated the land to the federal government and it became part of this week’s 100th anniversary celebration of the National Park Service.

“The creation of a new national monument will bring economic development to the area and benefit all of Maine,” Pingree, a longtime supporter of Quimby’s proposal, said in a written statement. “It will bring millions of visitors to this beautiful and special part of our state, and at the same time preserve traditional uses like hunting and snowmobiling. The American people owe a debt of gratitude to Roxanne Quimby for this incredible act of generosity. She worked hard to build a great company from the ground up, and the first thing she did when she sold it was to figure out how to give back to the people of Maine by donating this land. Generations of Americans will benefit from her gift.”

SEN. KING NOW SEES BENEFITS

Critics of Quimby’s proposal have often expressed concerns about the loss of access to land for hunting, snowmobiling and ATV riding, as well as potential ramifications for the region’s forest products industry.

King had joined Maine’s two Republican delegation members, Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, in expressing strong reservations last year about a potential monument designation in a letter to federal officials. King subsequently helped organize a visit to the region by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, but had not publicly endorsed the monument proposal.

On Wednesday, however, King said he believes the designation “will be a significant benefit to Maine and the region” based on the binding commitments built into the deed transfer from Quimby.

“This conclusion is confirmed by the comments made by Secretary of the Interior (Sally) Jewell shortly after the designation was announced, explicitly mentioning hiking, canoeing, fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing,” King, who is on a fact-finding trip to Greenland, said in a written statement. “It is critical to see this as an opportunity fully compatible with our existing forest products industry, including potential growth in woods-related businesses. This isn’t either/or, it’s both – and will provide much-needed diversity to the region’s economy.”

Poliquin, a monument opponent whose 2nd District includes the Katahdin region, cited non-binding votes in several Katahdin region towns as well as the state Legislature opposing the national monument. But he urged the Obama administration to work to support the state’s forestry industry and pledged to work with federal officials on job creation.

“While opposed to a unilateral decision, ignoring the votes in the local towns, the Maine Legislature, and Congress, I will continue to work with everyone to move this project forward in the right way in order to build a stronger economy that creates more and better-paying jobs in the Katahdin region and in Maine,” Poliquin said. “All public officials must do everything humanely possible to help ensure local input as to how this new federal land will be managed.”

SEN. COLLINS QUESTIONS PROCESS

Similarly, Collins charged that the president had bypassed Congress, adding, “He should not have used his executive authority given the objection lodged by the Maine Legislature, the lack of consensus among Mainers who live in the area, and the absence of congressional approval.”

Collins pledged to work with various stakeholders – including the forestry industry, recreational users and Katahdin-area residents – on economic development issues. But she said the monument designation raises a host of logistical questions.

“These questions and many more will have to be addressed over the months and years ahead. This is typical of designations under the Antiquities Act, and is one of the reasons I have twice voted to express my concern with this unchecked presidential authority,” Collins said in a written statement. “It is essential that this new monument supplement economic development efforts in the region and not be an impediment to the productivity and recreational enjoyment of our privately owned, multi-use working forests.”

Poliquin’s opponent in the November elections, former Democratic state lawmaker Emily Cain of Orono, said “a transparent process that included more public input and congressional oversight would have been better” in order to protect access to recreation and so-called “traditional uses.”

“As I’ve said for months, for me to support the decision it needs to be part of a plan to create jobs and protect the region’s hunting, sporting and logging traditions,” Cain said. “A monument designation was never the best way to handle this issue. Now that a decision has been made, we need to take advantage of the opportunity to create jobs for families in the Katahdin region and protect access for hunting, snowmobiling and other traditional uses.”