Organizations involved with Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument speculated Friday that the Trump administration could tweak timber practices, snowmobiling and other policies but said they do not anticipate major modifications from the National Park Service.

“There is only so much they can do with Katahdin,” Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association, said Friday while in Maine for the monument’s one-year anniversary celebration.

Federal officials kept quiet Friday about potential changes at Katahdin Woods and Waters, one day after the interior secretary said he would not propose eliminating any of the 27 monuments under review. Brengel quipped that the report’s specific recommendations were “the best-kept secret in DC right now.”

At 87,500 acres, Katahdin Woods and Waters is the smallest of the 27 federal parcels that President Trump ordered reviewed in response to former President Obama’s liberal use of his executive authority to create national monuments. Obama designated Katahdin Woods and Waters on Aug. 24, 2016, on land east of Baxter State Park donated by conservationist and Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby after years of heated debate.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his draft findings to Trump but has yet to publicly release details of the changes he said he recommended for some monuments.

Katahdin Woods and Waters is widely expected to be on that list, although the scope of the changes is not likely to approach those anticipated for Utah’s 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument and some other Western monuments. But Trump will make the final decision on whether to change or even make an unprecedented attempt to rescind a monument.

COLLINS ENCOURAGED

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was encouraged by her conversations with Zinke but said she couldn’t “pre-empt” details she expects to be announced next week.

“I did talk to Secretary Zinke earlier this week and it is obvious from what he told me about what he will be announcing that he has consulted with all the stakeholders and people in the region,” Collins told the Portland Press Herald. “I am confident he has listened carefully to people.”

Bob Meyers with the Maine Snowmobile Association, which opposed the monument, was among the many stakeholders in Maine awaiting those details.

Snowmobiling is allowed on trails in 21,000 acres on the eastern side of the East Branch of the Penobscot River but not in the primary parcel of land that offers the best views of nearby Mount Katahdin and the surrounding valley.

“I’m thinking and I’m hoping we are going to see a few changes, but what we have seen so far has not been a surprise,” said Meyers, who met with Zinke during his June visit to Maine.

Brengel said decisions about recreational uses such as snowmobiling and hunting – also relegated to the monument’s 21,000 eastern acres – are well within the purview of the National Park Service. She argued those discussions are best suited, however, for the park service process now underway in the local communities to create a “general management plan” for Katahdin Woods and Waters.

But Zinke also hinted during his June visit to the Katahdin region that the park service might explore allowing timber harvesting within the monument.

“There is a history that I think is important here, the history of timber management, of hardworking people and of the economy. That is an important part,” Zinke told reporters on June 15. “Even the river still has the buckles from putting logs in the river, so that history … is an important part that should be highlighted.”

LOGGING AN ISSUE

Such a proposal is likely to get close scrutiny from groups in Maine and around the country.

“Limited demonstrations of early logging techniques for education may be OK, but opening the monument to commercial logging would impair the natural integrity of the monument and violate the National Park Service Organic Act,” said Michael Kellett, executive director of RESTORE: The North Woods, one of the earliest organizations advocating for another national park in Maine. “It should not be allowed.”

The Organic Act of 1916 is the federal law that created the National Park Service and guides land use policies. The law says that the interior secretary may judge that “the cutting of such timber is required in order to control the attacks of insects or diseases or otherwise conserve the scenery or the natural or historic objects in any such park, monument, or reservation.” However, Brengel and others argue the law does not allow for commercial harvesting or sales of timber.

Gov. Paul LePage, one of the monument’s most vocal critics, had proposed allowing the Maine Forest Service to take over management of the monument lands. Zinke said in June that was unlikely. But in comments submitted to the Interior Department, the Maine Forest Products Council said it was encouraged by Zinke’s statements about managing the land for multiple uses, including timber harvesting.

“In the Maine-made process that you envision, we hope this monument can be reshaped to more accurately reflect the traditional uses and values of Maine’s northern forests,” wrote executive director Patrick Strauch. “The Council would like to be part of that process.”

Lucas St. Clair, Roxanne Quimby’s son and the leader of the push to designate the land as a national monument, said he could envision a historical interpretation or forestry demonstration areas. Not commercial harvesting, however.

“This landscape for the last 300 or so years has been in some sort of forestry management, so when visitors come to the monument they want to know the history,” St. Clair said. “So having some component of (forestry) history could be an important part as long as it doesn’t detract from the conservation and recreation values of the national monument.”

INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS

During his Maine visit, Zinke also said the monument needs better infrastructure improvements, including easier-to-navigate roads, directional signs, outhouses, campgrounds and cellular phone towers.

Jeff Reardon, the Maine-based brook trout project director for Trout Unlimited, said his organization would be OK with expanded snowmobiling, upgraded roads, campgrounds and other infrastructure in the eastern sections of the monument. Trout Unlimited would prefer that the park service not expand the road network or other infrastructure in the remote section between the East Branch and Baxter State Park.

Reardon said the Wassataquoik River provides “one of the most pristine watersheds in the state,” supporting native brook trout and landlocked salmon populations there and in the East Branch. And to his knowledge, there are no invasive fish species such as smallmouth bass in that upper watershed.

“One of the big concerns we have is increased road access leads to increased risks of invasive species being introduced,” Reardon said.

Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis said tribal leaders were impressed with Zinke’s understanding of the issues and the region’s history while meeting with him in June. Francis said while the Penobscot Nation is not opposed to finding compromise on the controversial monument issue, the tribe would be concerned about opening up the monument to uses that could be detrimental to an area that plays an important part in Penobscot history and culture.

Overall, however, Francis said he was “very encouraged” by the initial reports of Zinke’s recommendation for Katahdin Woods and Waters.

“We are excited about the opportunities,” the Penobscot tribal chief said. “It abuts our territory up there, is a region that is very culturally important to the tribe and has (economic) opportunities for not only the tribe but also for the region.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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