Keep Michigan’s Public Lands in Public Hands

If you look at the map of Michigan, you see lots of blue.  No doubt, we have lots of water:

  • 11,000 inland lakes.
  • 3,000 miles of freshwater shoreline-more than any other state in the nation.
  • Michigan has more total shoreline than any state except Alaska.
  • Michigan has tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams.
  • In Michigan, you’re never more than six miles from water and great fishing.

But we also have lots of green. Public Lands:

  • 4.5 million acres managed by MIDNR.
  • 5.7 million federal acres split between USFWS, US Forest Service, National Park Service, and BLpublic hunting area MIM.

Find how much your state has in federal and state lands here.

Value of Public Lands

Whether you have a fly-rod in hand, hiking boots on, binoculars scanning the horizon, or a shotgun afield, many of us have experienced the enormous wealth that our public lands provide.  Our public lands are both federal and state land.  From large stretches of land that provide clean water sources, to hosting intact fish and wildlife habitat, to special places where we can hunt, fish or simply connect with the outdoors, the value of our public lands is increasingly clear.

Here in Michigan, I have hunted for grouse and woodcock on public land. I have enjoyed duck hunting on public land. I have caught plenty of fish in streams and rivers that flow through public lands.  I have camped with my family on public lands and enjoyed the scenic shores and dunes that our public lands have provided.

These experiences would not be abundant and available if it weren’t for public lands. Its clear that our public lands are a value.

However, our public lands in Michigan are facing an unprecedented attack.

While conversations about divestment in public lands is not new to Michigan, we are now hearing increased calls to sell off our public lands.  A land cap has been in place in Michigan since 2012, restricting the ability of the DNR to procure high-value lands for the state’s recreational and conservation interests, as well as forcing the sale of certain lands held under public ownership. At the time, a compromise was reached that sunset the cap in the Lower Peninsula (ends this year) and allowed for the cap in the UP to be removed once a formal DNR “land plan” had been approved by the legislature. Using strong stakeholder input, the DNR put together a land plan and submitted it to the legislature 18 months ago. The first attempts at approval (formal bills) languished and died. Legislation has been introduced that, while allowing the cap to be lifted, place long-term burdens on the DNR and risks the integrity and survival of our public land system in Michigan. For example, it would require all state lands to be open for all forms of access, with only a few exceptions. Dirtbikes and ATV’s on grouse enhanced management trails? Snowmobilers and cross-country skiers using the same trail? If this goes through, imagine the conflicts and irritations amongst all the different types of users on these lands.  Not to mention, the degradation on certain habitats due to mixed use.

Michigan has over 4.5 million acres of land available – enough that we can have different lands and trails open for different types of access, without making all lands open to all types of access. The introduced legislation would also require new caps to be put in place every 5 years, unless the Legislature approves DNR submitted land plans prior to the five year window. Considering the length of time it has taken to legislatively “approve” the current plan, such actions are unlikely to occur within the proposed window of time, resulting in future restrictions. A longer background and discussion for Senate Bills 39, 40, and 206 can be found at Michigan United Conservation Club’s website.

When it comes to public land management, we should be placing hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, camping, and hiking interests first.  Keep Public Lands in Public Hands. So that those who use/pay for these areas do not lose them.  We need a clean land cap bill without any strings attached. 

Defending All Public Lands

For more on what is happening on the national level and mostly out west, check out National Wildlife Federation’s President and CEO, Collin O’Mara’s article that ran in The Hill.  Also pasted below:

Keep America’s public lands in public hands

credit: Lew Carpenter

credit: Lew Carpenter

May 8th, 2015

By Collin O’Mara
For many families, spring means one thing: spending more time outdoors. Few outdoor experiences rival hiking, fishing, hunting, or wildlife watching on public lands. And where only a tiny fraction of Americans own large tracts of land or have access to private hunt clubs, for the vast majority of Americans public lands provide nearly all outdoor recreational opportunities; they are the birthright of all Americans, as is often said and repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court. Our public lands are the envy of the world.

Yet, just as my 3-year old daughter Riley and I—and millions of other outdoor enthusiasts—are shaking off the long winter by getting outdoors, a growing assault on our nation’s public lands is under way at the state and federal levels. The attacks range from efforts to give states control and potentially privatize national public lands to blocking presidents’ ability to establish national monuments to bills selling public lands and repealing essential safeguards for our water, air, and wildlife.

Polls consistently show that Americans care about public lands and the environment and nowhere is that more true than in the very states where some state and federal lawmakers are targeting our outdoor heritage. A recent bipartisan survey by Colorado College shows that 96 percent of the voters in six Western states said protecting public lands for future generations is a priority and favor ensuring access to those lands for recreation.

Despite this strong public support, state legislatures throughout the Rocky Mountain West have spent the last several weeks and taxpayers’ money debating proposals that would harm wildlife, our public lands, and the local economies that depend on hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation, and tourism.

Now, the action is picking up in Congress where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) recently successfully offered an amendment to the budget resolution that supported selling or turning over federal lands to the states. While it was a non-binding resolution, it’s a harbinger of battles ahead. Utah Reps. Rob Bishop (R) and Chris Stewart (R) have formed a panel of House members to figure out how Congress can give federal lands to the states. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has introduced a bill that would require the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to open about a third of their land to sale.

And unlike state legislatures, Congress has the authority to alter the landscape of our public lands legacy.

In Bishop’s state of Utah, legislators passed a law demanding the federal government transfer title of federally managed lands and minerals to the state by Dec. 31, 2014. Despite obvious constitutional issues, other states are making similar demands. Takeover proponents argue the West is at an economic disadvantage because 30 percent or more of the land in most states is federally managed. They say giving states title to the lands will allow them to profit from them as they see fit.

However, states don’t have the resources to suddenly start managing tens of millions of acres of land. Taking on just the cost of fighting wildfires would be staggering. A report by the Center for Western Priorities shows that since 2001, the U.S. Forest Service has spent an average of $3.13 billion annually to protect Western communities from wildfire. To cover costs, public lands would undoubtedly be increasingly mined, drilled or logged, reducing public recreational access – or sold to the highest bidders.

The losses would reverberate throughout the U.S. economy. Outdoor recreation generates an estimated $646 billion annually in consumer spending nationwide. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that is nearly double what Americans spend annually in each of the following areas: pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles and parts, household utilities and gasoline and other fuels. The economic impacts are particularly big for communities that are gateways to national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and wilderness areas. Thousands of wildlife advocates, business owners, veterans and sportsmen and women have rallied in state capitals across the West and met with lawmakers to keep public lands in public hands.

The fallout wouldn’t be just economic. Our public lands belong to all Americans, no matter where they are. They are a fundamental part of our identity and constitute a shared legacy. Last year, all 49 state affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation unanimously approved a resolution affirming support for our public lands. Hunters, anglers, bird watchers, hikers and paddlers across the country know what’s at stake.

O’Mara is president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, one of the country’s largest and oldest conservation organizations. Before joining NWF in 2014, he headed the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

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