Friday, January 27th, 2023
Friday, January 27th, 2023

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Bill puts limits on use of biodiversity management

Lansing — Michigan lawmakers recently approved legislation to limit the DNR’s ability to set aside land in the name of biodiversity, a controversial measure that pits timber interests and outdoorsmen against environmentalists.

House Republicans passed Senate Bill 78 on a party-line vote Dec. 18, more than a year after it was approved by the Senate in March 2013. The bill, which was presented to Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 2, was initially designed to eliminate a

DNR plan developed under the Granholm administration to set aside about 650,000 acres as “biodiversity stewardship areas.”

Michigan sportsmen and timber interests raised concerns about limited access for public recreation, habitat-restoration efforts, and logging in the designated areas. DNR officials eventually scrapped the program, although they retained authority to designate similar areas through different means as part of the department’s certifications for sustainable forestry, which requires that biodiversity considerations are incorporated into the state’s forest-management plan and help to secure federal grants.  

Kendra Everett, legislative director for Escanaba Sen. Tom Casperson – the sponsor of SB 78 – told Michigan Outdoor News that Casperson pressed forward with the legislation because “there has never been solid movement from the department to address those concerns” about the potential for restricted access to areas set aside in the name of biodiversity.

The bill’s supporters include groups like the Upper Peninsula Sportsmens Alliance, the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Michigan Association of Timbermen, and others. Those opposed include the Michigan Environmental Council and 133 scientists from 13 Michigan universities that signed a letter in 2013 urging Snyder to veto the bill.

Everett said other states, like Minnesota, have ensured areas designated to promote biodiversity remain open to the public while simultaneously maintaining sustainable forestry certifications, and the bill’s supporters want Michigan to do the same.

Supporters want “firm assurances” that “access for timber management on land set aside for biodiversity will still be allowed in (the DNR’s) designated areas,” Everett said. “Michigan has never given any assurances like that.

“What the bill says is the department can’t promulgate a rule or issue an order that would be done specifically for biodiversity,” she said.

MEC spokesman Brad Garmon described the legislation as “poorly written” and “overly broad.”

He said opponents have three major issues with the bill: The biodiversity stewardship areas it sought to eliminate are no longer a factor, the language of the legislation is unnecessarily broad and could lead to unintended consequences, and it’s “embarrassing” because it defies scientific research pointing to the need to maintain biodiversity.

“SB 78 ignores a large body of scientific evidence that has shown conservation of biological diversity is critical for maintaining healthy, sustainable ecosystems,” according to the letter presented to Snyder by Michigan’s university scientists in 2013. “Ecosystems with a greater variety of species are generally more efficient and productive, are better able to resist invasions and outbreaks by economically damaging pests and disease, and are more stable in the face of environmental change.”

“This bill goes a lot farther than just (the biodiversity stewardship areas) program,” Garmon said. “It … eliminates things that science has found true.”

An MEC news release condemning the bill’s passage also states that the legislation, if approved by Snyder, “would strip the state’s authority to implement Endangered Species Act protections and would make it far more difficult for the DNR to control the spread of invasive species.”

Matt Evans, MUCC legislative affairs manager, said MUCC was initially neutral on the bill when it was introduced two years ago, but shifted to support it after former MUCC president Erin McDonough worked with Casperson to address minor issues.

MUCC members support the bill because of concerns about how biodiversity decisions could impact habitat-restoration work or hunter or angler access, Evans said.

“We wanted to make sure the DNR wouldn’t take a chunk of land to manage for one thing,” he said.

Evans said MUCC officials have been pleased with how the DNR’s current administration manages the state’s forests, but believe the bill will help to ensure decisions based on biodiversity won’t be used to limit public access in the future.

Despite its support, however, MUCC continues to monitor the issue to ensure the bill doesn’t impact the state’s sustainable forestry certifications, and in turn federal funding, if it’s approved, Evans said.

“It’s something we are aware of and are watching,” he said. “Hopefully, it won’t affect that.”

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