Score one for Mother Nature

By Ron Leir

With a stroke of his pen, President Obama – against the wishes of the Pine Tree State governor, hunters and snowmobilers – has designated more than 87,000 acres of northern Maine timberland to be set aside for preservation.

This supplements Maine’s only existing national park, Acadia, on the coast, comprising nearly 49,000 acres.

Technically, the area is labeled a “national monument” because only a vote of Congress can authorize the creation of a national park.

It was President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, who created the precedent for Obama’s action when, back in 1906, under the “Antiquities Act,” he took steps to protect many of the nation’s undeveloped lands – mostly in Western states – from exploitation by timber, mining and oil barons.

Many bird and wildlife preserves exist across the U.S. today, only because TR pushed the conservation agenda to the Bull Moose.

This year, as we mark the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, there are still threats to our precious natural resources, as witness the current standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux, joined by other Native American tribes, against the Dakota Access oil pipeline developers.

The Indians have sued to stop the underground pipeline’s incursion into North Dakota, claiming there is danger of the line rupturing and spilling oil into waterways and that the pipeline will intrude on ancestral lands and gravesites.

A federal judge was due to make a ruling on the legal complaint by Sept. 9.

Back in Maine, it should be noted that the president’s declaration came in the wake of a longtime effort by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby to buy up and assemble acreage in the northeastern part of the state to preserve as parkland and the family has earmarked $40 million for park development and maintenance, according to The New York Times.

But, as the Times reported, Maine’s top elective leader, GOP Gov. Paul LePage, has been anything but receptive to the plans. He was quoted as saying, “It’s a shame that rich, out-of-state liberals can team up with President Obama to force a national monument on rural Mainers who do not want it.”

Let us hope that a compromise can be worked out to accommodate the Mainers so we can all peacefully enjoy the state’s wilderness and mountains while ensuring a balanced ecosystem.

It is said that Maine lawmakers and others against the park – now designated as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – are also fearful that the it will be a precursor to more restrictive air pollution controls on wood and paper mills outside the park area. Frankly, given Congress’ reluctance to check the growth of local industry, they probably shouldn’t worry too much.

As pristine as much of the lobster-loving state may be – particularly to us in the industrialized New York/New Jersey metro area – there is still, nonetheless, the reality of pollution in its waters.

Since 2014, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has closed off 12.5 square miles at the mouth of the Penobscot River, which feeds into Penobscot Bay, to lobster and crab fishing because of high levels of mercury.

The actions taken are the outcome of a federal lawsuit filed by the Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council against the HoltraChem Manufacturing Co. and its purchaser Mallinckrodt LLC.

Last September, according to The Ellsworth American, the court ordered Mallinckrodt to pay for a plan to clean the riverbed of the Penobscot River of mercury pollution from the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington, Maine.

The company has hired the Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure engineering firm of Chicago to come up with such a plan, which is due this month.

That cleanup could cost as much as $130 million, it has been speculated.

That’s just a trifle when compared to our own Passaic River cleanup program and the estimated cost of removing PCBs, dioxin and heavy metals which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has pegged at more than $1 billion – a plan that the responsible parties have scoffed at as misguided.

Federal and state environmentalists have warned anglers not to consume any of the crabs or other fish inhabiting the Passaic which are, presumably, laced with toxins.

Here in New Jersey, we can thank the former Meadowlands Commission for paying attention to the flora, fauna and wildlife in the region and for organizing kayak/canoe trips through the marshes to further our meadows education and recreation.

Now it’s up to the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority to shepherd along those programs.

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