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Town Hall Reveals Value of Public Land on Presidents Day

February 20th, 2014

Michigan United Conservation Clubs co-hosted a Public Land Town Hall meeting Monday night in Traverse City with Rep. Wayne Schmidt (R – Traverse City) and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. In a packed room at the Acme Township Hall, area residents listened to Rep. Schmidt and expert panelists, asked questions and voiced their opinions about the Department of Natural Resources’ public land strategy, Rep. Schmidt’s bill to approve the strategy and lift the land cap, and public land in general.

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Panelists included Glen Chown, executive director for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy; Rob Richardson, an economic analyst for the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corporation and Traverse City Chamber of Commerce; Matt Evans, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs; and Emma Jurado, political director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

Rep. Schmidt discussed HB 5210, a bill he introduced – and which MUCC supports – that will approve the DNR’s strategic land plan and lift the land cap. Under PA 240 of 2012, the DNR was required to create a strategic land plan and a cap was placed on the amount of public land that the state could own until the legislature approved the plan. In signing the legislation, Gov. Snyder wrote that he would encourage the DNR to act swiftly in creating the plan and encourage the legislature to uphold its end of the bargain by removing the land cap when it approved the plan. The plan was completed in July, and this bill upholds the legislature’s commitment to lift the cap if it approves the plan.

Glen Chown talked about the value of public land, including a heartfelt story about his son hunting on public land when he got his first woodcock. Rob Richardson discussed the economic value of public land, particularly for the northwest lower peninsula’s tourism-reliant economy.

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Not everyone in the crowd was in favor of lifting the land cap. About half of the crowd came from notices relayed by “Trucker” Randy Bishop on Patriot Radio, and had concerns with past DNR land management practices. They were respectful and offered reasons why they thought the land cap should not be removed, however, many of those reasons were based on past practices that are addressed in the DNR’s strategic land plan that the bill would approve. “Just leave the cap on,” said Bishop.

Panelists, however, pointed out that the Land Cap Bill, PA 240, said that the cap would only remain until the legislature approved the land plan. It was a temporary arbitrary cap to encourage the DNR to complete the plan, not a permanent cap. One member of the crowd asked if the plan was part of a secret U.N. conspiracy to force people out of rural areas, but as Rep. Schmidt pointed out, “I’m not visited by U.N. emissaries.”

The plan itself has three primary goals: Provide quality outdoor public recreation opportunities, foster regional economic prosperity, and protect natural and cultural resources for future generations. For MUCC, it’s about having a place for Michigan’s 700,000-plus hunters and 1.2 million anglers to have places to hunt, fish and trap. Paul Rose, past president of MUCC, and Dave Smethurst and John Walters of Trout Unlimited – who are all also on the Pigeon River Country Advisory Council – all spoke in favor of the bill, the land plan and removing the land cap.

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As the moderator for the panel, I appreciated everyone who showed up, asked questions, and spoke their mind about public land in Michigan, regardless of their position on the issue. On Presidents Day, it was a great example of the way that representative democracy works in America and in Michigan. Thank you to the panelists for providing their expertise, and especially to Rep. Schmidt for taking time out of his evening to explain his bill to his constituents, field their questions, and answer them thoroughly before driving back down to Lansing in a snowstorm.

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