It has been over a month since our post about Senate Bill 248 – a bill to cap the amount of public land in Michigan at 4.65 million acres – and in that time we have been successful in driving a few changes.

On June 22nd, Senate Bill 248 passed the Senate with further amendments and made its way to the House of Representatives, where it was assigned to the Committee on Natural Resources, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation, chaired by Representative Frank Foster (R-Pellston).

The amendments do soften the bill up from the hardline, almost extremist, language that was in the original bill that would have capped the amount of public land with no exceptions and no alternatives. Some important changes to note:

•Most importantly, the amended version of the bill does not require the immediate sale of over 250,000 acres of public land and does give the state a roughly 15,000 acre buffer that would allow current land acquisition projects to continue to run their course without putting us over the cap right away.
•The amendment would also require that tax-reverted land not sold nine months after being put on the market would have to go to a public auction where the highest reasonable bid must be accepted, even if the bid is below market value. This is a positive change from the original language requiring the state to accept any bid that was the highest offer – even if the highest offer was 50 cents. Questions still remain as to what incentive remains for a party to go through the bidding process with the state for a parcel of land if they can simply wait a few months and get it for below market value.
•The amendment also requires the state to, before acquiring rights to land, analyze the effects of the acquisition on the local unit of government.
•The new changes also keep the previous exemptions to the cap:
•A right-of-way or area of land not more than 80 acres for gaining access to other land owned by or under the control of the DNR
o Purchased land that was commercial forestland on the bill’s effective date

o Land acquired through gift or litigation

o Conservation easements (now both existing and future)

o Trails, including railroad right-of-ways, but for all other trails it would only be limited to the traveled area of the trail and could not exceed 100 feet in width, multiplied by the length of the trail in feet.

MUCC has agreed with the argument that this state – the DNR in particular – must have a sound and more transparent management strategy for existing and future public land. No one disagrees that we need to do a better job of taking care of the land we currently have, the issue is whether or not a cap on the amount of public land to which our people can have access is the way to go about this.

While it is nice to see some dialogue beginning and changes stemming from that dialogue, this bill is still alarmingly flawed and does not address the issues that are most troubling and most important to Michigan’s outdoor community.

Instead of capping public land and forcing the sell-off of “excess” land, MUCC believes the state should develop a comprehensive land acquisition and sale strategy that takes into account all recreation and natural resource values, including recreational demands and values that vary greatly by region.

This is a common sense approach that takes into consideration the fact that Michigan’s public land is not evenly distributed throughout the state. For example, only 4 percent of public land is located in Southern Lower Michigan – where a majority of Michigan’s hunters and anglers live – compared to 49 percent in the Upper Peninsula.

While we want to give sportsmen and women in southern Michigan more opportunities to get outdoors, we don’t want to short-change the residents and thousands of visitors that seek out the U.P. each year for quality access to public land to hunt, fish, and trap. Under this bill, someone’s gain would be another’s loss, and zero sum games are typically not good conservation policy.

The consequences of such a cap on any plan to help provide access to the hundreds of thousands of Michigan’s outdoor enthusiasts are grim. That is why this is such an important issue for MUCC’s members and Michigan’s outdoors community to rally around. At their annual convention in June, MUCC’s members resoundingly passed an emergency resolution in opposition to Senate Bill 248. The call was also sent out for members and clubs to write their State Representative to inform them that a cap is bad public policy.

In the meantime, individual clubs have also taken it upon themselves to pass resolutions opposing Senate Bill 248 in its current form.

While MUCC staff are continuing to work on solutions with the bill sponsor and other interested parties, MUCC’s members are stepping up to the plate to make sure their voices are heard on this important issue. Our concerns and ideas are beginning to drive change on this issue. Will you make your voice heard?