Maine Governor Paul LePage took a trip to visit President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. this past week, as Trump signed an executive order to review national monuments as part of the National Park System. In 2016, against LePage’s wishes, former president Barack Obama established the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Penobscot County.
In August 2016, Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby donated approximately 88,000 acres to the federal government. The next day, it was reported that Obama assigned it the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. This was one of almost 30 monuments that Obama either established or expanded.
The monument came to life after the generous donation of land near Millinocket and Baxter State Park, as well as a $20 million endowment to the federal government. Critics of the decision, including LePage, are against putting working forest land into public ownership.
The Portland Press Herald reported that Trump’s executive order “calls for a review of national monuments created since Jan. 1, 1996, that are larger than 100,000 acres.” With the Katahdin monument being only 87,600 acres, it is unclear if it will be included in the order, but LePage believes this is the first step in reversing what Obama put into effect.
LePage believes that Obama violated the Antiquities Act, established in 1906, which put millions of acres of land across the nation under strict federal control. This executive order could give the power back to the individual states.
Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, said in an email that, “The Executive Order covers a review of Katahdin Woods because at least two local referendums and the Maine State Legislature voted against it.”
At the ceremony Wednesday, April 26 in Washington, D.C., Trump joked about LePage’s weight loss after a bariatric surgery in September 2016.
When introducing the governor, Trump jokingly said, “I knew him when he was heavy and now I know him when he is thin and I like him both ways, OK?”
According to the Portland Press Herald, “LePage campaigned with Trump during two of the Republican’s four visits to the state during the presidential campaign.” LePage openly supported the current president during his campaign and announced last week that he would be visiting to testify about the “executive branch overreach of the Antiquities Act,” but did not mention he would be attending the ceremony.
A tweet displayed on LePage’s official Twitter account featured an image of LePage in the office with Trump where the executive order was signed. “Glad to be with President Trump for the signing of his Antiquities Executive Order,” the tweet read.
In an email to the Portland Press Herald, Carly Johnson, a senior staff attorney and the director of the woods and wildlife project for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, explained that there was sufficient support and public process to declare the Maine monuments. “There were five years of meetings, debates, presentations and conversations,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson reported that the monument, as currently established, allows for hunting and snowmobiling while Baxter State Park, the adjacent national monument, does not.
“Gov. LePage has never visited the monument and has never talked to the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce or any of the many, many businesses in the Katahdin region who support the monument and are, in fact, now starting to reap the economic benefit of having a nationally branded natural area near their community,” Johnson wrote in her email. “The monument is the best stimulus for economic development the Katahdin region has seen in years.”
The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is set in an area that used to feature the logging and paper-making industry, but now has an undetermined economic future. With the establishment of the two monuments, the National Park Service has opened offices in the Katahdin region and encourages visitors to explore and observe the monument’s rivers, streams, woods, geology and night skies that have attracted visitors for decades.
LePage plans to testify against the movement before Congress next week.