President Obama “not done yet” with land conservation

In a speech at Yosemite National Park, President Barack Obama may have given some new hope to supporters of a new national monument in Northern Maine, saying he is “not done yet” in protecting public lands.

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President Obama and family visit Yosemite on Father’s Day. (White House photo)

President Obama did not specifically mention the proposed 87,500-acre monument in Northern Maine in his remarks on Saturday, but he emphasized his record of creating monuments and taking other conservation actions, and suggested there’s more to come. He mentioned President Abraham Lincoln’s creation of Yosemite park and President Theodore Roosevelt’s famed visit to Yosemite with John Muir.

“Since I took office, I have been proud to build on the work of all those giants who came before me to support our national resources and to help all Americans get out in the great outdoors. We protected more than 265 million acres of public lands and waters – that is more than any administration in history.

“We have designed new monuments and historic sites that better reflect the story of all our people. Along with those famous sites like Gettysburg we can also see monuments to Cesar Chavez or Pullman porters in Chicago.”

“We have more work to do to to preserve our lands and our culture and our history. We are not done yet.”

President Obama has expanded or added 23 national monuments

In his years in office, President Obama has used his executive powers under the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 23 national monuments, according to the National Park Service.

Elliotsville Plantation, a private nonprofit organization that owns the land in Northern Maine just east of Baxter State Park, wants to donate the land to the federal government for creation of a Maine Woods National Monument. Lucas St. Clair, the son of Roxanne Quimby, the wealthy philanthropist who purchased the land and created Elliotsville Plantation, said he wants President Obama to sign an executive order to create the national monument before he leaves office.

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Lucas St. Clair, president of Elliotsville Plantation, wants President Obama to designate a Maine Woods National Monument in the Katahdin area. (Photo courtesy of Lucas St. Clair)

President Obama used the speech to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service this year. In Maine, Acadia National Park is marking its Centennial on July 8, or 100 years after President Woodrow Wilson used the Antiquities Act to create Acadia as a national monument.

President Obama underscored the economic importance of national parks, a key argument being made by St. Clair and other backers of a Maine Woods National Monument.

“Last year, more than 305 million people visited America’s national parks. For this Centennial we are asking all Americans to find  your park so that everyone, including those from underserved communities, can experience these wonders.

“Our National Parks are not just fun to explore. They are good for our local and national economies. Sometimes,  people try to pose conservation against economic development but it turns out that studies show that every $1 we invest in our national parks generates $10 for local economies. These parks help to drive our national outdoor industries – boots and tents and mountain bikes and snowmobiles. That industry supports 6 million American jobs … As we look back over the last 100 years, there is plenty to celebrate about a national park system that is the envy of the world but when we look to the next 100 years, the task for protecting our sacred spaces is even more important.”

President Obama recalls family visits to Acadia, Yellowstone

President Obama said the biggest challenge is climate change, which at some point could seriously threaten Acadia.

“Here in Yosemite, meadows are drying up, bird ranges are shifting father northward, alpine mammals like pikas are being forced further up slope to escape higher temperatures. Yosemite’s largest glacier – once a mile wide – is now almost gone.

President Barack Obama hikes Acadia National Park

The beauty of Acadia has drawn generations of visitors, most notably President Barack Obama and family in July 2010 (White House photo)

Rising seas .. at some point could even threaten icons like the Statue of  Liberty and Ellis Island. That is not the America I want to pass on to the next generation. That is not the legacy any of us want to leave behind.”

President Obama, who visited Acadia with his family in July 2010, also struck a personal note about national parks when he recalled a visit to Yellowstone National Park as a boy. He said the experience transfomed him.

“I remember being an 11-year-old kid, the first time I saw a moose in a lake, the first time we drove over a hill and suddenly there was a field full of deer, first time I saw a bear and her cub. That changes you. You are not the same after that … The beauty of the National Park system is – it belongs to everybody. It is a true expression of our democracy. The notion that we all look after ourselves and our families and we work hard and we make money and we have our own homes and apartments and cars and televisions but then there is this part of us that is part of everybody, something we have in common , something we share, a place where we connect with each other and to connect to something bigger than ourselves.

“What an incredible idea. What a worthy investment. What a precious thing we have to pass onto the next generation. Let’s make that happen.”

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