2017-03-11 / State/Regional

‘Gross negligence’: Patagonia founder, Maine native calls out LePage for anti-monument stance

By Nick Sambides Jr.
Bangor Daily News

The founder of a California-based outdoor clothing retailer fighting to save a national monument in Utahhas slammed Gov. Paul LePage as part of extending his company’s efforts to protect Maine’s national monument.

Both Utah’s Bears Ears and Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters national monuments were created last year by executive orders issued by President Barack Obama. They have come under fire from conservatives, including LePage, who say they were established through unilateral federal government edict, without state or local approval.

Patagonia founder and Lisbon, Maine, native Yvon Chouinard mentions LePage in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece as among “top executives” whose “gross negligence” in opposing the monuments threatens the future of the nation’s 640 million acres of federal public lands.

“Rather than harness the power of public lands for maximum benefit, some politicians on the right — including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska — are trying to repeal laws that safeguard ecologically vulnerable landscapes,” wrote Chouinard in the editorial, which was published online on Thursday.

“They’re working to roll back protections on some of our most special wild places, including Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in my home state of Maine. And they are pushing to transfer ownership of federal lands to states,” Chouinard wrote.

“They cloak all this in an argument for states’ rights, but that’s baloney. What right do the states have to assert control over land owned by every American citizen? Selling public lands has been item No. 1 on Big Oil’s agenda for a long time. It’s a theft of valuable property owned by all of us,” he added.

LePage’s spokespeople did not respond immediately to a request for comment. LePage was traveling to Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

A Patagonia spokeswoman, meanwhile, said that Maine is “near and dear to our hearts” due to Chouinard’s being a native. The company intends to include the Katahdin Woods and Waters at some point in its nationwide campaign to protect public lands, including monuments.

“We are dedicated to all of them,” Patagonia’s director of communications, Corley Kenna, said of monuments. “We are as committed to Maine’s [national monument] as we are to Utah’s.”

Google and Patagonia are producing a high-tech film and publicity campaign to save Bears Ears, which is named after two mesas. Obama signed an order creating the 1.35 million-acre Utah monument on Dec. 28. The order for the Katahdin Woods 87,563-acre monument east of Baxter State Park was issued on Aug. 24.

LePage wrote President Trump in a letter dated Feb. 14 asking him to reverse his predecessor’s order and return the land to private ownership or state control “before economic damage occurs and traditional recreational pursuits are diminished.”

If state control is a more viable option, LePage wrote, then that control “would ensure it [the land] could benefit all Maine people and accommodate the region’s economic and recreational needs. Who better to manage a public resource in Maine than the people who live in Maine?”

State management of the land would help ensure that it “would complement and ensure the ‘forever wild’ status of [neighboring Baxter State Park] without doing harm to the region or the Maine economy.”

LePage’s argument echoed that made by Baxter park Director Jensen Bissell, who released a three-page open letter in September outlining his apprehension that Katahdin Woods visitors will cross the shared boundary with Baxter and imperil areas left largely untouched since Theodore Roosevelt visited them in 1879.

Chouinard’s claim that anti-monument forces are acting on behalf of major oil producers doesn’t fit well with LePage’s record. Any benefits major oil producers have accrued through LePage seem at most to be indirect results of his actions.

On June 16, LePage issued an executive order for a state study of the health impacts of ethanol emissions that also required state agencies to buy gasoline with only 5 percent ethanol. That’s an additive that reduces the amount of oil needed to make gasoline. He did it despite Maine gas stations’ only carrying gasoline that is 10 percent ethanol.

LePage’s administration has pushed to have electricity customers help pay for expanding natural gas pipelines, a proposal that nuclear and oil generators participating in the regional market have opposed.

LePage also signed a bill that passed the Legislature on April 15 creating a $13.5 million bailout of Maine’s struggling biomass industry, which in turn has drawn proposals from several developers seeking to make biofuels from wood.

If successful, wood biofuels would be a boon to the state’s forest products industries.

As a company, Patagonia doesn’t appear at least initially to have much of a connection to Maine. Its sole Maine outlet is in Freeport. Chouinard, meanwhile, spent some of his childhood in Maine. In his autobiography, Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, Chouinard describes his father as “a tough French Canadian from Quebec” with only three years of education whose family settled in Lisbon to find work in a mill when his dad was 9.

“I believe I inherited his love of hard physical work and an appreciation of quality, particularly of fine tools,” Chouinard writes.

Chouinard describes his “profound memory” of seeing his father sitting next to a wood stove, drinking a bottle of whiskey, “and proceeding to pull out some of his teeth, good and bad, with a pair of with his electrician’s pliers. He needed dentures but thought the local dentist was asking too much money for the part of the job he could just as easily do himself.”

He attended a French-Canadian private school and spoke only French until his family settled in Burbank, California, in 1946, when Chouinard was eight.

But Katahdin Woods won’t figure in the Patagonia public lands campaign just because of Chouinard’s roots, Kenna said.

“What we are trying to do is initiate a nationwide conversation concerning our public lands,” Kenna said.

Return to top