Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Forest bill raises access concernsfont

By Steve Griffin Field Editor

Lansing — The state’s largest outdoors group worries that a
public access provision of the new Commercial Forest Act, while
appearing to boost access efforts, may have the opposite
effect.

By requiring only those landowners who enrolled after 1995 to
prove they’re allowing the access the law requires, the
House-approved bill (HB 5455) and its Senate companion (S915), now
before that body, may seem to wink at those enrolled before that
date.

And the Michigan United Conservation Clubs says that just isn’t
right.

“We are very concerned with public access provisions of both
bills,” Erin McDonough, MUCC policy specialist, told Michigan
Outdoor News in a phone interview.

The CFA gives owners of forested land sizeable breaks on taxes,
in an effort to encourage forest stewardship.

For each acre enrolled in CFA, the owner pays $1.10 per year
instead of regular property taxes. The state chips in another
$1.20.

Years ago, landowners’ taxes were waived, and they paid 25 cents
per acre instead – then 10 percent of the value of timber harvested
down the line. McDonough said the new system was created because,
“The townships had problems working with that.”

McDonough worked out a tax bill of $720 for a 40-acre parcel
appraised at $2,000 per acre, assessed at a taxable value of $1,000
per acre, and taxed at a rate of 18 mills.

The owner of that property could enroll it in CFA and pay just
$44 instead – a savings of $676, or a whopping 94 percent.

In return, though, the lands are to be left open for hunting and
angling.

It’s not a small issue to outdoors enthusiasts. About 2.2
million Michigan acres are enrolled in the CFA, according to
MUCC.

Michigan’s state forest system, in comparison, one of the
nation’s largest, comprises just under 4 million acres.

Of CFA lands, a scant 6 percent have been enrolled since 1995,
and thus subject to the documentation requirement.

And the other lands?

The new bill wouldn’t require them to prove they’re complying.
“That would open it up for landowners to say, ‘Here it is in the
law – we don’t have to show you that we provide access,’ ”
McDonough said.

An MUCC action alert reported, “Michigan’s DNR has stated, and
the timber industry and legislators have confirmed, that some CFA
landowners are either selling off or gating their frontage so that
public access is denied while still receiving the large tax
break.”

A documentation requirement could make such evasion more
difficult.

MUCC, oddly, is on record as supporting the bill against which
it now rails.

The House Legislative Analysis Section, a non-partisan office
that analyzes bills for lawmakers and others, lists MUCC as backing
the bill.

McDonough explained that MUCC staff initially reviewed the bill
and OK’d it. “Then the DNR called us down and pointed this out. We
hadn’t caught that provision.”

So now, MUCC joins the DNR, the Michigan Townships Association,
the Michigan Association of Counties, and the Michigan
Environmental Council in opposing it.

A long list of timber, logging, wood and paper companies and
organizations favor the bill, which they say would lower the cost
of Michigan wood products, boosting economic activity here.

McDonough said legislators gave indications that they wanted to
fix what was wrong, especially after numerous calls from
constituents.

But when MUCC staffers met with committee members the day she
spoke with Michigan Outdoor News, she said, “They showed us
compromise language that said the same thing” as the earlier
version.

To McDonough, the issue is simple.

“If they’re getting that big tax break, they have to give us
public access as the law says.”

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