Burt's Bees landowner gifts land to US government

Markets Associated Press

The Burt's Bees founder pushing for a new national park in Maine has given 87,500 acres of land to the U.S. government.

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On Aug. 12, land conservationist Roxanne Quimby signed deeds transferring her nonprofit foundation's land in Maine's Katahdin region to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A DOI spokeswoman said there's no announcement coming now about a national monument. Quimby's family has been lobbying President Barack Obama to grant the land monument status, a move that can be a stepping stone to national park status. Only Congress can create national parks, which are typically larger, while presidents can create national monuments under a 1906 federal law.

The Associated Press obtained copies of the deeds, which call the land along the Penobscot River a "nationally significant natural and cultural landscape" and describe the land transfer as a "gift."

It is nearly double the size of Acadia National Park, which began as Sieur de Monts National Monument.

This spring, Maine's legislature passed a symbolic bill saying the legislature doesn't consent to the federal government acquiring land for a monument.

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The bill was signed by Gov. Paul LePage, who earlier this year said the state Bureau of Parks and Lands was taking steps to re-establish crossing rights to state land that's surrounded by foundation-owned land.

"That's one way to get out of paying taxes to the State of Maine," LePage said in a statement. "It's also an ego play for Roxanne Quimby and Sen. Angus King. It's sad 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. As I've said all along, the fix is in."

LePage this year said out-of-state donors are behind the Natural Resources Council of Maine's support for the proposal. The group called the governor's comments "total nonsense" and said it has thousands of Maine members.

Quimby did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for King, an independent, said the senator won't "respond to name-calling" but will respond to a designation, if and when Obama makes one.

King, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin last fall wrote a letter to Obama outlining their "serious reservations" about the proposal and stating the conditions they hope to see in any designation.

King invited National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis to one of two dueling hearings on the proposal this year. Poliquin, who says the project would negatively impact neighbors and the local economy, requested the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee to hold the second hearing.

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree on Tuesday called the transfer a "very generous gift" that would bring economic growth to the entire state while preserving hunting, fishing and snowmobiling.

There is a deep divide in Maine among critics opposed to federal government intrusion and those who view the proposal as an economic lifeline that will protect the land. The region has struggled with double-digit unemployment since a pair of paper mills closed down.

Lucas St. Clair, Quimby's son marshalled the effort for an eventual national park by lobbying Maine's congressional delegation.

Nonbinding votes conducted in 2015 showed residents in Medway and East Millinocket — both hit hard by the paper mill closures — opposed the proposal 2 to 1. Local officials have said the plan wouldn't produce the promised jobs and that regulations aimed at protecting park vistas would limit industries in surrounding towns.

Quimby's foundation's proposal includes a $40 million endowment to fund park operations.

Quimby, who founded Burt's Bees with beekeeper Burt Shavitz in the mid-1980s, has said she'd like to see the land receive federal protected status this year during the National Park Service's centennial. The 100th anniversary is on Thursday.