Maine Gov. Paul LePage sent letters to President Barack Obama and members of the state’s congressional delegation to express his opposition to any efforts to designate certain Gulf of Maine and forest areas as national monuments.
In question are an undersea mountain range named Cashes Ledge and its environs, which conservationists consider a crucial refuge for the dwindling Atlantic cod population, as well as Millinocket-area land eyed by some as a potential spot for a national park.
While supporters of the designations argue they would advance important natural preservation efforts and — in the case of the national park — boost tourism and jobs, the governor and other opponents worry the moves would too greatly restrict the state’s commercial fishing and forest products industries.
But was a national monument designation ever likely for either location?
There are no national monuments currently in the state of Maine. Would Obama create one?
We’ll review some basics about national monuments and their history to help flesh out that discussion.
A U.S. president could designate a national monument in Maine without the approval of Congress — or anyone else
Thanks to the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president can declare a naturally or culturally significant landmark a national monument, whether it’s a stretch of wilderness or a man-made thing, like the Statue of Liberty.
Two subsequent laws since then reduced presidential powers to designate national monuments under certain situations in Alaska and Wyoming, respectively, but in the other 48 states — including Maine — there’s little to prevent the president from naming a national monument wherever he sees fit.
The president is restricted in that the property being designated as a national monument must be owned by the federal government.
So in the case of the proposed national park area, for instance, the land would first need to be donated to the government, although that would just be a formality if both parties agreed on the measure.
The real challenge to such a designation in Maine would be political.
Would Obama force the issue of a national monument declaration against the local governor’s wishes? Would he spend time fighting over a couple of places in Maine when he’s got more politically dangerous issues to deal with, like a proposed nuclear pact with Iran?
He may decide it’s easier to stay out of Maine’s debates, especially if getting involved could put him at odds with Maine’s U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican he has courted in the past in hopes of generating bipartisan support for his initiatives.
Who wants a national monument in Maine?
Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Maine operations, told the Bangor Daily News his organization and others proposed creation of a national monument covering the roughly 500-square-mile Cashes Ledge area when Obama asked for suggestions last year.
Among the organizations standing alongside the Conservation Law Foundation in support of a marine national monument are the National Geographic Society, Pew Charitable Trusts, Natural Resources Defense Council and the New England Aquarium.
Those voices could collectively be loud enough to get Obama’s attention even over the opposition of LePage, especially if any members of the state’s congressional delegation join them.
Near Millinocket, however, the push for a monument appears less forceful or organized.
A representative of the primary group pushing for the creation of a national park near Millinocket has acknowledged that national monument designations can be precursors to developing national parks. Maine’s Acadia National Park, after all, was first designated a national monument by the name of Sieur de Monts in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.
But Lucas St. Clair — who has become the public face of the national park effort on behalf of his mother and wealthy landowner Roxanne Quimby — has repeatedly stated his team doesn’t favor pursuing national monument status as a pathway toward establishing a park.
What is a national monument and how is it different than a national park?
According to Outside magazine, the differences between national monuments and national parks are mostly in the paperwork.
A major difference is the reason for the designation, as parks are to be preserved for their “scenic, inspirational, educational and recreational value,” while monuments are to be protected for “historical, cultural and scientific” reasons.
While those are terms that can be applied pretty subjectively, it basically means old forts and ruins, for example, are more likely to be named “monuments” and vast expanses of wilderness are more likely to be named “parks.” Although there’s plenty of crossover.
Oversight of the locations can also be different. The National Parks Service operates the national parks, of course, and can also be put in charge of some national monuments.
But unlike the parks, national monuments can also be made the responsibility of any of a number of other federal entities, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and even the Department of Defense.
While the president typically declares national monuments, Congress generally designates national parks.
Less officially, Outside reports that new national parks must be at least 2,500 acres and include multiple points of interest, unlike monuments, which can be much smaller and only include only a single point of interest.
According to The Wilderness Society, national monuments also must generally protect “existing rights” to those locations, including things like oil and gas leases, mining claims and livestock grazing rights. Hunting, fishing, horseback riding and motorized vehicles can all be permitted on lands designated as national monuments.
Democratic presidents are more aggressive in naming national monuments
Obama has declared or expanded 19 national monuments since he’s been in the White House, including three in July (see video below). His Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, declared or expanded six.
In fact, since the Antiquities Act in 1906, Democratic presidents have designated or expanded 122 national monuments, while their Republican counterparts have designated or expanded 84.
Here’s the full list: