Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

MI: NRTF funding under attack

Lansing – The successful and popular Michigan Natural Resources
Trust Fund is under fire as state legislators take careful aim. A
package of bills introduced by state Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville,
seeks a constitutional amendment to transfer NRTF funds to other
state departments, diminishing the DNRE’s and local government’s
ability to purchase land for public recreation, improve public
recreational access, and develop recreation projects.

The package of bills would slash the amount of revenue generated
for the NRTF from gas and oil leases on state land. Under the
legislation, 60 percent of that revenue would be deposited in the
State Transportation Fund, 20 percent would go to the State
Aeronautics Fund, and 20 percent would go to the NRTF.

“It would be a shame to take a program that has been so successful
since the mid-’70 and destroy it,” said Keith Charters, a longtime
member of the NRTF board of trustees. “It’s been a wonderful
program and a national model, and has done miraculous things for
recreation in Michigan.”

The NRTF was created by the Legislature in 1976 to ensure that
money generated from the sale of gas and oil on state lands would
be used to purchase new public lands and support recreation and
conservation projects across the state.

Interest and a portion of the balance of the fund is used each year
for land acquisitions and recreation projects.

The William G. Milliken State Park and Riverfront Project in
Detroit were recipients of NRTF funding. Money from the fund has
been used to acquire additional lands like the St. Johns Marsh on
Lake St. Clair, the Pigeon River Country State Forest in the
northern Lower Peninsula, and deer yards across the Upper
Peninsula.

NRTF money has been used to purchase and/or maintain hiking and
riding trails, shooting ranges, access sites, nature areas, state
forest campgrounds and beaches, boardwalks, city and county parks,
nature areas, and much more.

“It’s not restricted to hunting and fishing projects,” Charters
said. “About half of the money goes to local parks.”

Through last year, $873 million has been appropriated for more than
1,200 projects statewide. Every county in Michigan has received
project funding from the NRTF.

Approximately $30 to $35 million is available for grants each year,
depending on revenue, investment earnings, and interest.
Seventy-five percent of that grant money must be spent on land
acquisition, and up to 25 percent may be used for development and
maintenance projects.

The proposed recommendations for Fiscal Year 2011 include 117
projects and acquisitions across the state totaling $102
million.

“That fund is approaching a half billion dollars,” Rep. Agema told
Michigan Outdoor News. “Twenty-two percent of the land in this
state is already owned by the state or federal governments.
Seventy-five percent of that fund is being used to purchase more
land – land that we don’t need right now. The question I have is,
‘Where is our priority in spending?’ We need to prioritize our
spending in this state. I still want to keep that fund (NRTF)
intact, but at a lower funding level.”

By a public vote in 1985, the NRTF was granted constitutional
protection, which means the Legislature cannot change the
allocation of those funds without public approval.

Agema’s legislation is a package of two bills and a joint
resolution.

HB 4021 establishes the breakdown of the existing funds in the
60/20/20 allocation. HB 4028 allows the funds to be reallocated to
the State Transportation Fund. HJR B calls for a constitutional
amendment to allow for the reallocation of the funds.

Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote of
both the state House and Senate, followed by a public vote.

“If we put 20 percent of that fund into our airports, we get back
$9 from the federal government for every $1 spent. And the 60
percent that would be used for roads would return $4 for every $1
spent,” Agema said. “We need to look at where we’re spending money
that we don’t need to spend, and put it where we need it.”

The bills have been introduced and referred to the House Committee
on Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, which is
chaired by Frank Foster, R-Pellston.

“Apparently, with the economic situation we’re in right now,
everyone is looking for other pots of money to use,” Charters said.
“Public recreation is one of the jewels of Michigan. It would be a
shame to see it destroyed. Shame on us if we let that happen.”

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