by Nicole Rivard
America needs more National Parks. Period.
So says Michael Kellett, who founded RESTORE: The North Woods, in 1992. Kellett makes such a strong case that his essay on the topic was included in the 2014 book, Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness, the Foundation of Conservation.
And Kellett’s actions over the last two decades speak as loud as his words. He has spent the last 24 years of his life, since he left his position at the Wilderness Society, advocating for a National Park in the north woods of Maine. He proposed the park in 1994, because he believes in a restored landscape and the recovery of extirpated and imperiled wildlife, including the eastern timber wolf, Canada lynx and Atlantic salmon. “I’ve been at it too long to give up now,” he said with a laugh during a recent interview.
But Kellett said he ran into a buzz saw of opposition by entrenched anti-wilderness and anti-public lands people.
“It’s some of the same kind of people we saw take over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, who hate federal public lands and the government,” he said.
“There was a lot of misinformation spewed that a new National Park would take away people’s homes, and ruin the timber industry and all this other ridiculous stuff.
“The people who hate National Parks, preservation and public land want you to believe that it’s not possible to create a National Park. A lot of people hear that and get discouraged. They might think about a National Park and work on it for a little while and then give up because they aren’t going to win.”
But that’s not the case with Kellett. He’s in it for the long haul, buoyed by the fact that a lot of parks faced opposition before they were created.
“If you read the history of National Parks, almost every single National Park, all the ones that people love now, they were vehemently opposed by the same people,” Kellett said.
“You can read the articles from 100 years ago and opponents were saying the same stupid, bogus stuff. It’s unbelievable. Grand Teton National Park, for example. Opponents said Jackson was going to become a ghost town because the heart of the economy was cattle grazing. And now Grand Teton is the entire economy. It’s the richest county in the entire state of Wyoming because of that park.”
Since Kellett first proposed a National Park in the Maine woods, another narrative has developed. Roxanne Quimby, founder of skin-care company Burt’s Bees, met Kellett at a 1998 farm fair in Maine.
She was so impressed with the proposal that she began buying land from timber companies as a core for the park, kicking hunters off the land. Since then she has put her son Lucas St. Clair in charge of pushing the park’s development forward, and he recently came up with the possibility of creating a 100,000-acre national monument in the area first as a more attainable short-term goal.
Unlike National Parks, which can only be created by an Act of Congress, national monuments can be created with the stroke of a president’s pen. Congress passed the Antiquities Act of 1906 to give the president the ability to quickly protect historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest on federal owned land.
A national monument would be a step in the right direction, said Kellett. He pointed out that several National Parks started out as national monuments, including Acadia, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Zion.
While Kellett thinks there is a real chance of creating a national monument in Northern Maine before Obama leaves office, which is a step in the right direction, he will continue to push for the creation of a bigger National Park because that’s what will be needed to preserve an entire ecosystem, like with the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park.
“In the Maine woods for example we need to restore wolves. If you did reintroduce them like they did in Yellowstone, but you only have 100,000-acre national monument and you have a 200,000-acre state park next door, that’s still a pretty small area. We would like to see the whole ecosystem patched back together,” Kellett said.
A National Park in the Maine woods, as well as Kellett’s overall vision of a far larger National Park System for the next 100 years— free from hunting and resource development activities—is something Friends of Animals champions.
Other new National Parks for imperiled wildlife Kellett suggests in his essay include: Georges Bank (Mass.) for blue, fin, North Atlantic right, and sei whales; Giant Sequoia (Calif.) for California condor, California spotted owl, Little Kern golden trout, and Valley elderberry longhorn beetle; Gila-Apache (Ariz., N.M.) for jaguar, Mexican wolf, Mexican spotted owl, and Gila trout; High Allegheny (W.Va.) for West Virginia northern flying squirrel, Eastern small-footed, Indiana, and Virginia big-eared bats, and Cheat Mountain salamander; Northeast Ecological Corridor (Puerto Rico) for West Indian manatee, Puerto Rican plain pigeon, Puerto Rican boa, and leatherback turtle; and Thunder Basin (Wyo.) for blackfooted ferret, black-tailed prairie dog, greater sage-grouse, and blowout penstemon.
Kellet’s vision for current national park expansions include: Biscayne (Fla.) to prevent encroaching urban development; Theodore Roosevelt (N.D.) to terminate fracking for oil and gas; Crater Lake (OR) and North Cascades (Wash.) to stop logging and road building; Canyonlands (Utah) and Glen Canyon (Utah) to prohibit drilling, mining, and off-road motorized abuse; Glacier (Mont.) and Yellowstone (Idaho, Mont., Wyo.) to halt the killing of wolves, grizzly bears, and bison; and Mammoth Cave (Tenn.) to avert exploitation of integral watershed.
“The good thing is people love National Parks. More than 300 million people visited them last year,” Kellet said. “What cause has an automatic constituency of 300 million people? Say we got one percent of that constituency really fired up and activated, that would be three million people.”
Kellet says that if those people were informed and organized, they could exert massive pressure on Congress and the president to create new National Parks. The last time citizens mounted such a nationwide new parks campaign, it resulted in the passage of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Act, which doubled the size of the National Park system.
“My belief is people like positive bold ideas. They are tired of being told everything is horrible and we can’t do anything,” Kellett said. “If you have a good idea that really is possible, they are hungry for that now.”