March 5, 2013
Hugh McDiarmid: 248-660-4300
Lisa Brush: 734-996-3190
Bill could cripple efforts to manage land for resiliency, species protection
Shortsighted legislation redefining “conservation” and restricting the ability of state land managers to consider the diversity of Michigan’s flora and fauna when managing state lands and forests has passed the Michigan State Senate by a 26-11 party line vote this morning.
The Michigan Environmental Council and the Stewardship Network will seek defeat of the measure, Senate Bill 78, in the House of Representatives, and will urge Governor Rick Snyder to veto the bill should it reach his desk.
“This is terrible legislation,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council. “It undercuts one of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) chief missions – to protect and enhance the diversity and splendor of Michigan’s woodlands and forests.”
The bill undermines important tools used by the DNR to manage land, including the Michigan Endangered Species Act, weakening the state’s ability to protect unique Michigan assets that contribute to the economy and Michiganders’ quality of life.
“Scientific land management for biodiversity is a healthy and accepted philosophy that would be forced underground by this legislation,” said Lisa Brush, executive director of The Stewardship Network. “Removing science and biology from land and forest management is an irresponsible rejection of good natural resources practices."
Healthy forests provide diverse opportunities for recreation, flood and pollution control, and protection against invasive species and commercial activities like logging. Undermining the ability of the DNR to manage for multiple uses is a sweeping change in philosophy that fundamentally narrows the mission of the agency and puts our forests at risk.
Michigan can rightfully boast about our Great Lakes and our incredibly rich array of different plant, animal and natural communities. Protecting, enhancing and restoring that biological diversity in our forests, fisheries and dunes – among the most biologically diverse of any state in the country – is both scientifically sound and good economics. In addition to creating great places to camp, hike, hunt and see nature, managing lands for ecosystem health and genetic resilience ensures that our forests can survive new invasive species and other threats.
The intent of SB 78, introduced by lead sponsor Sen. Tom Casperson, is purportedly to stop implementation of a very specific program – the DNR’s proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area) program.
If that were its only target, it would still be bad policy. The Living Legacies program is not a “set aside” that would lock up land. It’s the opposite. It’s a management tool, designed to help the state and private landowners recognize and understand where intact and “functional” natural communities exist, or could most easily be reestablished. By enhancing these places through normal land management activities (including selective timber harvest and responsible outdoor recreation), Michigan would grow stronger economically as our great outdoors become more ecologically stable, more beautiful, more genetically resilient and more fun to play in.
Regardless, the bill is not specific to the Living Legacies program. It is a set of sweeping changes to the scientific principles that guide all state land management. Specifically, it amends current law to:
- Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
- Prohibit the DNR or Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either (the only portion specifically targeting the proposed BSA program).
- Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
- Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
- Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.
SB 78’s stunning assumption is that the perpetual survival of native species and natural communities is not of critical importance to Michigan and its residents.
In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, the legislation may also endanger other DNR programs like forest certification, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets.
Places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed in part based on their biodiversity values, but are also popular places to experience Michigan’s wildlife, history and cultural icons.