National Park: To Which Constituents Are Our Members of Congress Listening?

Last November Senator Collins, Senator King, and Representative Poliquin made it clear that they oppose the creation of a Maine Woods National Park or a National Monument, which might be a first step toward a park.  The “conditions” the members list in their letter to President Obama regarding a possible National Monument designation show that they are responding to a narrow group of interests rather than to the diversity of perspectives of their Maine constituents.

In their letter to the President, they mention public support for the creation of a Maine Woods National Park.  Though they do not cite the data directly, I think they are referring to the poll conducted last fall by Critical Insights.  This poll found that 60% of Mainers support creating a National Park. The majority of respondents in Northern Maine where the Park would be located also support its creation.  My first question then is, does not this majority of Maine citizens deserve stronger consideration by our Members of Congress on this issue?

These data from Critical Insights are consistent with unpublished survey data my colleagues and I collected in 2013.  A mail survey of Maine households asked a series of questions about recreation in the Northern Forest, an area much larger than that proposed for a Maine Woods National Park.  Over 300 Mainers responded to the survey, 48% of whom reported recreating in the Northern Forest in the past three years.  While we did not ask people whether or not they supported the park idea, we did ask them about their attitudes toward land conservation and natural habitats.

These typical Mainers value outdoor recreation.  There was overwhelming agreement with the statement, “Outdoor recreation and access to the outdoors is an important part of my personal wellbeing.”

Outdoor recreation important

Respondents also expressed a strong ethic that nature is more than just a source of goods and services for humans.  There was support from a majority of respondents for the statement, “Nature is valuable for its own sake, even if humans get no goods or services from it.”  This was even greater than the support for a Maine Woods National Park found by Critical Insights.

nature is valuable

And when it comes to land preservation, Mainers are also supportive of wilderness designations, at least in the abstract.  There was considerable agreement with the statement, “Large parcels of land on Earth should be set aside as wilderness areas/nature preserves where humans are kept out and natural processes are allowed to take their own course.”  This is, of course, beyond what is being proposed for a Maine Woods National Park, which will not be nearly as restrictive of human use as a wilderness designation would be.

Large parcels of land

On the National Park issue, it appears that the citizens are ahead of our leaders.  The letter to President Obama from three members of Congress reflects the traditional multiple use vision for Maine’s woods.  I have called this the Myth of Pinchot, the idea that we can get all uses from Maine’s woods at the same time.  Mainers recognize that there are tradeoffs among uses that require different parcels of land to address different wants and needs.  A Maine Woods National Park and a National Recreation area are complements to existing land uses in the region, including industrial forest lands and Baxter State Park.

A patchwork of varying land uses will best serve the needs of Mainers now and into the future.  The concern for future generations is a strong ethic among our people if not our Congressional delegation.  62% of respondents in our 2013 survey agreed strongly with the statement, “We have an obligation to future generations to leave the environment of the Earth at least as well off as when we received it from the previous generation.”

A Maine Woods National Park would be a legacy we can be proud to create.  It is time now for the Congressional delegation to get on board with their constituents.

 

Mark W. Anderson

About Mark W. Anderson

I am proud to be a Mainer, born in Caribou and schooled at Brewer High School, Bowdoin College, and the University of Maine. I am grateful for a 35 year career at UMaine, the last decade in the School of Economics.