PORTLAND, Maine – Republican leaders in Maine and Utah are asking President Donald Trump to step into uncharted territory and rescind national monument designations made by his predecessor.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 doesn’t give the president power to undo a designation, and no president has ever taken such a step. But Trump isn’t like other presidents.
Former President Barack Obama used his power under the act to permanently preserve more land and water using national monument designations than any other president. The land is generally off limits to timber harvesting, mining and pipelines, and commercial development.
Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine last summer on 87,500 acres of donated forestland. The expanse includes part of the Penobscot River and stunning views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. In Utah, the former president created Bears Ears National Monument on 1.3 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and is home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
Trump’s staff is now reviewing those decisions by the Obama administration to determine economic impacts, whether the law was followed and whether there was appropriate consultation with local officials, the White House told The Associated Press.
Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage is opposed to the designation, and says federal ownership could stymie industrial development; and Republican leaders in Utah contend the monument designation adds another layer of unnecessary federal control in a state where there’s already heavy federal ownership.
The Utah Legislature approved a resolution signed by the governor calling on Trump to rescind the monument there. In Maine, LePage asked the president last week to intervene.
Newly sworn-in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said he’ll fight the sale or transfer of public lands. But he also believes states should be able to weigh in. The National Parks Conservation Association has vowed to sue if Trump, the Interior Department or Congress tries to remove the special designations.
“Wherever the attack comes from, we’re ready to fight, and we know the public is ready to fight if someone comes after our national parks and monuments,” National Parks Conversation Association spokeswoman Kristen Brengel said.
In Maine, the prospect of undoing the designation is further complicated by deed stipulations requiring the National Park Service to control the land and a $40 million endowment to support the monument, said Lucas St. Clair, son of Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who acquired the land.
Three of the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation want the monument to stand to avoid reopening a divisive debate in towns surrounding the property.
“Rather than re-ignite controversy in a region that is beginning to heal and move on, I hope we can allow the monument to continue to serve as one important part of a multifaceted economic revitalization strategy which is already underway,” said independent Sen. Angus King.
Utah Republicans, however, appear to be ready for a scrap. Rep. Jason Chaffetz raised the issue when he met with Trump and he asked the House Appropriations Committee to cut funding for the monument.
“Not one elected official in Utah that represents the Bear Ears region supports the designation of a national monument. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama, having never visited the area, created a monument the size of Delaware, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., combined,” he said.
In the region near Maine’s Mount Katahdin, both supporters and many opponents want to see the monument work. They hope it will help revitalize the economy.
Millinocket Town Council Chairman Michael Madore once described the park as a “foolish dream.” Now, he says, “We have accepted it as part of our landscape. Until such time as it’s overturned, we’re going to work with the people who’re involved with it to help the local economy.”