Just days after a failed legislative attempt to force the disposal of the popular Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) signaled that he will next seek to block a Maine-based foundation from donating property to the National Park Service to create a new national monument in the Maine Woods.
Bishop, who is the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, announced that he will travel to Maine on June 1 to hold a hearing that will scrutinize whether the National Park Service should accept a donation of 87,500 acres from a non-profit foundation started by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, and whether President Obama should designate the lands as a new national monument.
“[A national monument] would be a huge benefit to the people of the Katahdin region, as well as the people of Maine and the nation,” wrote Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce in a recent op-ed in the Portland Press Herald. “The national monument could provide important economic benefits to our region at a time when we urgently need positive developments. That is why there is much support for the proposal in the region.”
The area of the Maine Woods that is being considered for national monument status is known for its exceptional habitat for wildlife, including for threatened and endangered species such as the Canada lynx and Atlantic salmon. It also offers stunning views of Mt. Katahdin, and is expected to become a major draw for outdoor recreation.
The reason the Utah congressman opposes this proposed Maine monument, according to a statement announcing the meeting, is the use of the Antiquities Act — a law which 16 presidents of both parties have used to permanently protect public lands and historic sites. “The proposed monument designation in Maine’s Katahdin region would be another abuse of the Antiquities Act, exercised unilaterally with complete disregard for local residents, businesses, and elected officials,” Bishop said in the statement, after accusing the Obama administration of dismissing “the legitimate concerns of Representative Bruce Poliquin and his constituents.”
Despite Bishop’s criticism of a potential Maine Woods national monument, polling shows that two-thirds of Maine residents support creating a unit of the national park system in the Katahdin region. More than 200 Maine businesses have signed a letter stating their support for a park.
Local conservation groups, including the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, are calling for President Obama to designate the area as a national monument as an interim step towards establishing a national park. Some of America’s most loved and iconic national parks, including Grand Teton, Acadia, and Zion National Parks, were first protected as national monuments.
Bishop’s effort to derail a national monument in the Maine Woods is only his most recent attempt to undercut protections for public lands. In April, for example, Bishop sought to force the disposal or sale of 3,100 acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, the 4th most-visited refuge in the U.S. and territories, as a precondition for passing a bill to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt. The provision was removed from the bill last week after Puerto Rican, Latino, and conservation organizations expressed their concerns to House Speaker Paul Ryan. In 2015, Bishop also led an unsuccessful attempt to end the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is one of the most successful land conservation program in U.S. history.
Bishop’s ideological opposition to parks and public lands has earned him the distinction of being the head of the so-called congressional Anti-Park Caucus — a group of 20 highly conservative legislators who, over the past three years, have led an effort to stop the creation of new national parks and monuments and block funding for the conservation of land and wildlife. An analysis by the Center for American Progress found that Anti-Park Caucus members are predominantly Tea Party members, are from non-competitive districts, or have recently faced a Tea Party challenger in the primary.
Utah Congressman Wants To Sell America’s 4th Most Popular Wildlife Refuge To Private DevelopersClimate CREDIT: wikimedia commons A new bill to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is drawing fire over a controversial…thinkprogress.org“When it comes to land conservation and public lands, I have to give credit to Congressman Bishop for his consistency. No matter the issue at hand, no matter how many locals are supportive, no matter bipartisan or bicameral support, he’ll go to great lengths to put up roadblocks,” said Greg Zimmerman, deputy director with the Center for Western Priorities. “This meddling is virtually always counterproductive, which I guess is his intention.”
Bishop is also embroiled in controversy in his home state of Utah, where he has unveiled a draft bill that would force the transfer and sale of tens thousands of acres of public land in southeast Utah. A coalition of Native American nations in the area — including the Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni — have criticized Bishop’s proposal for its failure to adequately protect “the living cultural landscape we call Bears Ears.” The coalition is calling on President Obama to use the Antiquities Act to designate a national monument to protect the Bears Ears area and help curtail widespread grave robbing and looting.
Bishop also recently said that anyone who supports the Antiquities Act of 1906 — the same law that was used to safeguard the Grand Canyon and that could be used to protect the Maine Woods — should “die.”
Matt Lee-Ashley and Nicole Gentile work on the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow them on Twitter at @MLeeAshley and @nicolegentile.