The president uses his executive authority to create the national monument on land donated to the federal government by entrepreneur and conservationist Roxanne Quimby.
President Obama designated more than 87,500 acres of forestland in Maine’s fabled North Woods as a national monument Wednesday in a historic but unilateral decision following years of bitter debate.
With the stroke of a pen, Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – the second national monument in Maine history after Acadia National Park’s precursor – on land east of Baxter State Park in an area facing severe economic uncertainty. The move is likely to delight conservation activists and infuriate local opponents fearful the designation is trading potential industrial-based opportunities in the Katahdin region for mostly seasonal tourism jobs.
The designation is a substantial yet partial victory for Roxanne Quimby, the wealthy co-founder of the Burt’s Bees product line whose nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., donated the land to the federal government this month. Quimby has pushed for years for a full-fledged national park in the North Woods but sought a lesser monument designation because it did not require congressional approval.
Roxanne Quimby donated 87,500 acres in the Katahdin region and advocated for its designation as a national monument.
“The new national monument – which will be managed by the National Park Service – will protect approximately 87,500 acres, including the stunning East Branch of the Penobscot River and a portion of the Maine Woods that is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski,” reads a fact sheet released by the White House. “In addition to protecting spectacular geology, significant biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the new monument will help support climate resiliency in the region. The protected area – together with the neighboring Baxter State Park to the west – will ensure that this large landscape remains intact, bolstering the forest’s resilience against the impacts of climate change.”
Obama’s decision is unlikely to end the robust and often tense debate that has divided the Katahdin region’s business community and even some families, however.
While organizations such as the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce hope it will lure more tourists and create jobs, opponents warned it could further destabilize a forest products industry struggling to rebound from the closure of the Millinocket and East Millinocket paper mills. Many others have mixed views, seeing significant jobs potential but not in the industry that was once the backbone of the region.
Gov. Paul LePage as well as U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-District 2, strongly opposed Quimby’s plan, based in large part on feedback from the forest products industry, sportsmen and others. The other members of Maine’s congressional delegation have been divided on the issue.
Residents in several Katahdin area towns such as East Millinocket and Medway have cast non-binding votes opposing a monument. Yet polls suggest the majority of Maine voters, including a majority in the state’s northern congressional district, supported a hypothetical monument designation.