State legislature plans to cap public land holdings

By July 2, 2014 October 24th, 2014 No Comments

The Michigan State Senate recently passed SB 248, which would cap the amount of land the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) can hold in the public interest at 4.65 million acres. Once it reaches the proposed cap, the MDNR would have to dispose of an equivalent amount of acres before it could acquire additional land. We think this is short-sighted and we endorse the viewpoint expressed in the following opinion piece by Rachel Kuntzsch, the Executive Director of Heart of the Lakes Center for Land Conservation Policy, a statewide coalition and policy voice for Michigan’s nonprofit land conservancies.

The House is expected to vote on the bill in the fall. If you agree with us that this legislation is not in the public interest, please consider contacting your state representative and asking him or her not to support the bill when it comes to a vote in the House:

As Michigan citizens, tourists and seasonal residents enjoy summer in our state’s beautiful woods and waters, legislation that could significantly impact the state’s ability to acquire and strategically manage state lands for all of us to use and enjoy is moving through the state legislature. Senate Bill 248 (S-2), which passed the Michigan Senate in June and is expected to go to the House this fall, would cap the amount of land held for the people of our state by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Once it reaches the proposed cap of 4.65 million acres, the MDNR would have to dispose of an equivalent amount of acres before it could acquire additional land.

4.65 million acres sounds like a lot and it is. With more public land than any other state east of the Mississippi, there is no doubt Michigan needs to have a comprehensive strategy for the acquisition, disposition, and management of state lands. That strategy should include clear goals that take into account the public land needs of different regions of the state as it varies widely. But the cap in Senate Bill 248 fails to move the state forward on such a strategy and instead arbitrarily limits our ability to use land ownership as a tool to maximize economic, recreational, and environmental benefits for the people of Michigan.

Public land represents a critical strategic resource. Nothing better embodies “Pure Michigan” than the scenic and inviting public parks, forests, game areas and recreational trailways that are open to all. From sweeping vistas of the Great Lakes to pocket-sized hideaway campgrounds and trackless areas of hunting land, our public lands set Michigan apart as a recreation and tourism paradise. This generates both tourism dollars and many jobs as well as contributes to our overall quality of life. Additionally, the forest products, oil, natural gas, and minerals produced on our public lands provide critical raw materials and thousands of jobs for Michigan citizens. To limit our ability to acquire and manage key recreational resources by applying an arbitrary cap would be a grave error.

In addition to removing much of MDNR’s flexibility in acquiring lands, SB 248 does not address one issue claimed as a reason why a cap is needed—too much land for the MDNR to manage. Acreage alone does not determine the type, intensity or expense of management needs for public land. Large properties can sometimes require less management than small ones, based upon purpose and use. Some acquisitions can reduce management costs by establishing contiguous ownership rather than a patchwork quilt of private and public lands. The cap legislation also treats forests, state parks, and state game areas as equals and bypasses legitimate questions about benefits to the public as well as costs to state and local governments.

It’s not a question of how much land we own, it is a question of what lands we own, where we own them, where we want to own them, and why. In place of cap on MDNR-held public lands, it is essential that we instead develop a comprehensive strategy that engages the public, user groups, state and local government representatives, and other stakeholders. Michigan’s abundant natural resources, including our public land assets, distinguish us from other Great Lakes and Midwest states. These important public lands are a key part of our state’s place-making strategy, and are vital to our economic prosperity and environmental health. We need vision and a comprehensive strategy to achieve our natural resource based goals for quality of life, recreation, tourism, jobs and prosperity, not the arbitrary limitations placed by Senate Bill 248.

Rachel Kuntzsch
Grand Ledge, MI

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