Editorial: Don’t mess with national monuments

  • A rain storm passes over Mt. Katahdin in August 2015 in this view from land that is now the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine. AP

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New England got its first national monument last year when President Barack Obama accepted 87,500 acres of Maine woods and waters donated by Roxanne Quimby, founder of the Burt’s Bees personal care products company. The rugged land laced with lakes and rivers lies east of Baxter State Park and its sentinel peak, Mount Katahdin.

Quimby, a passionate conservationist, sweetened the offer with a $20 million endowment to help maintain the monument and a promise to raise an additional $20 million.

Protecting the wild forestland from future development or aggressive logging was a tremendous gift to the American people, one Obama was right to accept. But before the monument’s management plan could be completed by the National Park Service, President Donald Trump, reportedly at the urging of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a man who makes the president by comparison seem suave and debonair, added the new monument to the list of national monuments he ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review for proposed changes or elimination.

The region got its second national monument when President Obama followed Katahdin by establishing Seamounts national monument, 3.14 million acres of Atlantic Ocean southeast of Cape Cod.

Because fishing – other than for lobsters and crabs – is prohibited under the monument’s management plan, it could help restore New England’s depleted fish stocks. But Zinke recommends lifting the ban on fishing.

To his credit Zinke visited most or all of the 27 monuments on Trump’s list before making his recommendations. The nation should keep the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, he said, but he went on to suggest that the park allow “active timber management.”

If Zinke means commercial logging, his plan should be opposed. If it’s instituted, lawsuits should be launched.

“Active timber management” is not and should not be permitted on monument lands.

National monuments are created on federal lands, which means lands owned by this and every future generation of Americans. They are lands protected from commercialization, exploitation and despoliation, including by a developer-president whose closest brush with nature occurs when he kicks his golf ball out of the rough.

Zinke has proposed changes to 10 of the nation’s 157 national monuments, most of which were created by presidential order under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

President Teddy Roosevelt, who also established the nation’s first federal bird sanctuaries and the U.S. Forest Service, used the act in 1908 to declare the Grand Canyon a national monument. Most of Zinke’s suggestions call for shrinking park boundaries and loosening rules governing grazing, logging, mining, and drilling for gas and oil. All are wrongheaded.

Marring pristine lands of unsurpassed beauty to extract the very fossil fuels that are driving climate change is madness.

Presidents can create national monuments but none have ever tried to revoke a monument designation by a previous president. There are arguments on both sides, but the stronger of them holds that only Congress can do that. Presidents can and have, however, shrunk the size of some monuments or changed rules governing them.

Zinke’s proposals would benefit a relative few eager to profit from public property but harm the tourism and recreation economies created when national monuments are established.

Instead of undoing the good deeds of his predecessors in office, Trump should instead declare a national monument of his own, perhaps Blowhard Mountain, Utah, or Texas’s Ignorant Ridge, and leave the nation’s existing monuments alone.