Marvin Roberson is a Sierra Club forest ecologist in Marquette.
Jun. 20, 2014
Michigan residents are blessed with abundant amounts of public land, most of which is freely accessible to all. Our public land is treasured by state residents, and is a significant reason people come from other states to visit Michigan. They come precisely because most states do not enjoy such a generous amount of land accessible to all. They bring with them their hunting, fishing, and other recreational dollars. Public lands in Michigan are a significant economic force in our economy.
Unfortunately, Michigan may be poised to sell off significant parcels of public land. The state has received an application from a limestone mining company, Graymont, asking the DNR to sell them more than 10,000 acres of state forest land. That’s 15 square miles of land belonging to all of us that the state might sell to a private company. Most of the media coverage has focussed on the effects of this proposal on local residents. However, a land sale of this magnitude should be of concern to all Michiganians.
Not only is this an extremely large piece of land to consider selling (more than 20 times larger than any previous sale), it is also prime forest land. During a previous DNR planning process, DNR staff identified this very piece of land as some of the most valuable land in the state for both habitat and timber purposes. We should not be considering selling it.
Once an application is received, the DNR has a formal review procedure used to evaluate the merits of an application, and that is where the process is now. One of the criteria for selling land is whether or not it is “surplus.” Declaring land “surplus” means it has met previously established conditions for land the DNR does not want.
This piece of land meets no previously established definition of “surplus land.” In fact, if the most valuable 15 square miles of timber and habitat in the eastern UP is “surplus,” it is difficult to imagine which parcels of state land are not “surplus.” Could this be the beginning of wholesale disposal of state land in Michigan?
Some in fact hope it is. Incredibly, there are some influential politicians who are short-sighted enough to claim that we have “too much public land” in Michigan. They make this claim despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Public land in Michigan provides jobs in recreation, timber, and tourism. It provides aesthetic, habitat, and economic value.
These policy makers have not been able to articulate how much public land is “too much” or why. The Legislature, however, did pass a law requiring the DNR to justify owning land and describe the reasons to do so. The DNR produced the “Michigan Land Management Strategy.”
This document described all the reasons we should own public land. This included economic, recreational and environmental benefits. It also described criteria for land disposal, and identified types of parcels which the DNR might want to get rid of. Not surprisingly, this piece of land was not identified in this process as one we should consider selling.
The DNR is obligated to follow the formal application process. This includes significant amounts of staff time, analysis, public outreach, etc.. There is even a DNR web page atwww.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10368_11797_66953---,00.html.
However, this is money and time which never should have ben spent. This application should have been discouraged before it ever got to the formal review process.
If someone expressed interest in buying Mackinac Island from the state, we would not need any formal review process to know that the answer is “No.” The same should have been true here. This company should have been told “Don’t bother applying, not for sale.”
However, it appears that pressure from short-sighted, ideologically driven politicians has moved this from the realm of unthinkable to the possible. While it is unfortunate that these politicians do not care about the long-term benefits public lands bring to our citizens, it is not too late. The DNR is still accepting comments from the public on this. Let them know what you think by email at DNR-GraymontProposalComments@michigan.gov
Tell them to oppose selling this, and other pieces of land which belongs to all of us. It’s our heritage, and our legacy.