National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis should be applauded for his open-minded and constructive letter to three members of Maine’s congressional delegation. Instead, he is being criticized for not going far enough.
Back in November, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, along with 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, presenting their concerns about a potential national monument in the Katahdin region, on land that would be donated by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., a nonprofit created to promote a North Woods national park.
Even though national monuments — unlike national parks — can be created by a president without congressional approval, Collins, King and Poliquin still relayed concerns of some people who live near the proposed facility and outlined nine conditions that would have to be met for a monument designation to be acceptable in their eyes. The conditions included maintaining the right to hunt and use motorized recreational vehicles, and a commitment not to interfere with the forest products industry.
Jarvis responded for the president, and while he did not run down the list of the conditions, he conveyed an openness to explore all of them.
“The (Department of the Interior) looks forward to the opportunity to better understand these and other issues as you continue to solicit public input and lead this open dialogue about how to best protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region,” he wrote. “We also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights … if the Federal government received a land donation for a park or similar use.”
In response, Poliquin went on the attack, saying the letter “shows a complete lack of interest and concern from the White House for the residents of the Katahdin region.”
Collins and King issued a joint statement saying that they were “dissatisfied” with Jarvis’ letter because it did not address their concerns specifically. “We continue to believe that the voices of those who call the Katahdin region home are most important in this discussion and that those voices must be heard.”
That’s a strange response, since Jarvis’ letter was an invitation to explore all of the issues, with nothing off the table.
And while the voices of the people in the region are important, they are not the only voices that need to be heard.
In a recent poll, support for a national park reached 60 percent of Mainers. And in addition to the people who live in the Katahdin region now, officials should also pay attention to the voices of people who have had to leave the area to look for work as well as the people who would move there if there were a way for them to earn a living.
Decision makers should also consider the needs of future generations who may not have a way to experience a northern forest if this small piece of one is not set aside.
Maine’s members of Congress were right in their November letter to lay out a path by which a significant natural resource could be preserved and a local economy boosted without disrupting traditional uses of the forest. They should accept Jarvis’ invitation for dialogue and keep working toward that goal.