ESCANABA - In early October, Governor Granholm issued Executive Order 45 for 2009, announcing her intent to merge the DNR and DEQ, sort of a re-marriage of a formerly divorced couple. The news came as an item of new business at the Natural Resources Commission meeting in Ontonagon.
The first of several highlighted items in the EO was that upon the merger and effective Jan. 17, 2010, the director of the combined agency will be appointed by the governor. The NRC would retain its position throughout the transition and remain intact after the merger.
The action comes as the administration begins to right-size government and the cost of doing business, given the shrinking economy throughout the state. I agree it is something that has to be done.
The DNR/DEQ merger was set to take place in three rapid phases:
Phase 1 - (Oct. 19 - Nov. 2) Undertake high-level redesign (core team).
Phase 2 - (Nov. 2-25) High-level redesign/re-engineering (expanded team).
Phase 3) - (Nov. 25 - Dec. 23) Report to Governor.
On the night of Nov. 19, a group of 20 "stakeholders" and 10 representatives from the Michigan Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Environmental Quality (DEQ) met in Marquette to hear the details of the impending merger of the two state entities.
This was a hastily assembled group of individuals to meet at the convenience of the leadership of the core team, Bruce Rasher, and tight transition schedule.
Conservationist representatives of most if not all the major resource users (i.e. forestry, water, minerals), outdoors clubs and recreational disciplines were represented. It was the only outside meeting to be held in the UP.
DNR Director Becky Humphries and Commissioners John Madigan and JR Richardson also attended. Most of the public panel were also members of the Citizens Advisory Councils.
Rasher explained the outcome goals of the two department re-organization/merger and now referred to as the MDNRE, are to:
l Become a national leader by adopting an integrated, human health and ecosystem approach to environmental and resource management;
l Preserve Michigan's outdoor heritage;
l Provide quality and accessible outdoor recreation;
l As a single department, become more effective and efficient;
l Promote culture and transparency and problem solving;
l Facilitate and encourage economic growth in a sustainable manner.
Once discussion opened, Rasher was up front with all those attending in that it was not his intent to bring back recommendations of plan changes to the governor, but instead relay the comments in his final report, and comment we did.
The most important concerns expressed by those in attendance were that the position of MDNRE director should be appointed through the Commission and be resource based, versus a governor's appointment and more constituent based. This is part of the joint resolution from the UPSA/MUCC et al coalition.
The MDNRE Commission should retain the ability to decide policy of the combined agency is a concern expressed by the commissioners.
Financial transparency, another part of the coalition resolution, stayed on the list as an essential need.
There will be one part of the re-organization schedule I believe will meet with equal objection to the proposed appointment of the director, and that is the consolidation of all the motorized and non-motorized trails advisory boards, commissions and councils, to a one panel, seven member unit.
Rasher explained the rationale was due to the difficulties the governor had in making appointments to each panel. That job will now be delegated to the MDNRE Director.
Even with that, it does not explain why the volunteer panels, each with specialized knowledge of the needs of their respective constituents, could not continue in their current capacity.
Furthermore, although funds derived from license fees used to maintain the motorized trail systems in Michigan are protected from varying use, there is a fear that appointments on the single entity would lead to conflicts and leveraging to cover the costs for multi-use rather than exclusivity, with non-paying trail users.
I give credit to one representative of a non-paying group, Marge Forslund of Marquette, who is a CAC alternate and part of the "Friends of Blueberry ridge" cross country skiing group.
She also questioned the combination and also wants to see a user fee based income established specific to the sport, to assure its existence in the future.
If you are one who feels slighted for not being at the meeting, don't be. You still have a chance to participate. You will need to review the content of 2009 EO 45 at michigan.gov/dnr.
Read the facts and if you have a comment, sent it directly to Rasher at his e-mail address.
Please be brief and factual, working in the best interest of our natural resources. The information he receives will be included in the packet sent to the governor.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.