On protecting our land – In defense of the Katahdin Woods and Waters national monument

On Aug. 24, President Barack Obama passed an executive order establishing the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Located East of Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters is a sprawling 87,500 acres of land found within Maine’s North Woods.

The land’s history began thousands of years ago, when Native Americans first inhabited the area and relied on its rich natural materials to survive. Since then, the woods have acted as both a resource for loggers and native tribes and as a muse for writers, artists and photographers. As stated within the executive order, the land is considered an “extraordinary natural and cultural landscape,” and should be protected as such.

However, in the days since the monument’s establishment, a significant amount of opposition has come to light. Maine Governor Paul LePage released a statement decrying President Obama’s decision, stating that the order “once again demonstrates that rich, out-of-state liberals can force their unpopular agenda on the Maine people against their will.” Many Maine residents worried about maintaining open access for hunting and similar activities and considered the executive order a federal encroachment on state rights. Others believed the monument would be too radical of a change for the region, bringing unwanted tourism and perhaps a cultural shift from the traditional rural northern Maine lifestyle.

Though I see the validity of their sentiment, the opposition is pining for a long-past age of Maine — an age where mill towns and forestry reliably and steadily reigned the state’s economy. While some of Maine’s industries continue to stagnate, the state is in high need of new forms of income and job opportunities. And as proven with the extremely popular Acadia National Park, nature-based tourism is an important part of Maine’s economic shift. An astounding 2.8 million people visited Acadia in 2015, generating about $305 million worth of revenue and supporting 3,878 related jobs. These hundreds of millions of dollars are going back into Maine’s economy and encouraging growth. With a new national monument now in play, there will be more jobs and even more income brought in to benefit the state. This prospect is something that should be anticipated, not reviled.

I admit, I am not a native resident of northern Maine. I am a flatlander who has spent the majority of my life on the opposite side of the country. My home region, the Pacific Northwest, contains some of the most beloved U.S. national parks and monuments: a fact which is widely celebrated by our own state’s residents. These national parks and monuments are both a means of economic support for the region and a promise that our most cherished lands will be protected. Though we are a few thousand miles away from Oregon and Washington, I believe that the same principles apply to Katahdin Woods and Waters.

Just as the declaration of the area will be an economic boon, it will assure the maintenance of its natural and cultural integrity. Despite the backlash, I do think the establishment of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will ultimately do a great amount of good for all people — residents and tourists alike.

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