ESCANABA - State Representative Frank Foster, 107th District including Chippewa, Mackinac and Emmett Counties, sits as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Tourism and Recreation.
Foster recently held a public hearing on Senate Bill 0248 (SB-248), commonly referred to as the "State Land Cap Bill." The second version (S-2) of the bill was used as reference for discussion.
The amendments added to this piece of legislation have relaxed some of the most contentious concerns originally written in the bill, but according to Jennifer Clark, CFO of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, it:
"1) Still lacks transparent and accountable process for developing land purchasing/disposal/management strategy (nothing in the bill solves any of the problems that have been brought up in regards to needing clear criteria to help guide land purchasing, disposal and management. We can go on with business as usual.)
2) Does not take into account local and regional differences. (Some counties may feel like they have too much public land, but northern areas are much different than southern and the bill does nothing to address these differences.)
3) Does nothing to benefit sportsmen and women (no benefits here because we are not seeing anything that will guide the department towards a better strategy for our state lands)."
At a glance
The Michigan State House recently called a public hearing on?Senate Bill SB-248
The Land Cap Bill (SB-248) would put tax reverted land that has not been sold within nine months up for public auction.
Jennifer Clark has raised three concerns regarding amendments to the bill.
She makes a good point.
In the southern Lower Peninsula there is a special program, the Hunting Access Program (HAP), that you and I are paying for, that pays rent on 45 areas of private land to allow public access. I have yet to receive the figures on how much it costs annually, but 27 percent (12 of 45) are in locations within or adjacent to districts of state senators that co-sponsored this bill.
We're paying to subsidize their free recreational opportunities, yet they support reducing our chances to freely access recreation.
HAP was created in 1977 to increase public hunting opportunities in southern Michigan, where 97 percent of the land base is privately owned. HAP provides "financial incentives" to landowners in southern Michigan who allow hunters access to their lands.
Another issue with SB-248 is what is to be determined as "surplus land" has not been defined and the MDNR is currently prohibited from selling surplus land at less than fair marker value.
SB-248 would stipulate that if the MDNR offers tax reverted land for sale and the land is not sold within nine months, the MDNR must offer the land for sale at a public auction and sell the property to the qualified bidder making the highest bid that represents a "reasonable price" for the property.
The bill would also remove a provision stating "a bid shall not be accepted for less than fair market value of the surplus land as determined by the appraisal."
So, if parcels were put up for bid and they were purchased in this process by a major company, all would be well if it were to be kept in Commercial Forest Reserve status, right?
A recent request to the MDNR by the Forest Land Group, asked for MDNR Deer Management Assistance Permits (DMAPS), to kill 100-plus deer in a wintering yard near Skanee in Baraga County, claiming these deer are impacting forest regeneration.
Deer migrate many distances to this yard and the overall population in this region remains below quota. For this reason the request for DMAPS was turned down.
A representative of Forest Land Group was reported to have then contacted the MDNR and threatened to cut the thermal cover in the yarding complex if permits were not issued. It was further reported the representative then wanted the MDNR to pay him for not cutting the conifers.
Is this the type of entity who would sign up as a qualified bidder? There wouldn't be a problem with public access, especially if the recreational enjoyment from deer hunting was eliminated.
Who would want to go there?
The State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to conservation, protection, management and enjoyment of the state's natural resources for current and future generations.
An unwarranted cap on land set aside for public access will do harm to this mission, especially if the MDNR is forced to liquidate holdings to the highest bidder, no matter what the loss may mean.
The original problem of Payment In Lieu of Taxes is still not addressed anywhere in the package.
If SB-248 were to have any benefit to the people of Michigan, it would address a master plan on public land purchasing, disposal and management.
It would also have to at least address the three counties in the UP with the highest occupancy of state owned land and/or provide assistance to those counties to market the recreational opportunities and build their respective tax base on affiliated service industry, or find a solid feasible means of paying the PILT without dumping in the backs of the license buying public.
Either way and no matter how many shiny amendments are added, what exists now in SB-248 will not work.
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.