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New MDNR chief faces big challenge

Creagh coomes from Ag department, must mend fences

July 6, 2012
By Tim Kobasic , For the Daily Press

ESCANABA - The first half of 2012 went out with a bang with regards to conservation.

It was yet another transition and adjustment towards the future in how Michigan's natural resources will be managed.

Rodney Stokes had been at the helm of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources since the resignation of former Director Rebecca Humphries.

Prior to that he had managed several divisions of the agency and worked as a Legislative Liaison for the department.

One of the frustrations Stokes experienced during his tenure was the amount of time spent by himself and staff in "putting out fires."

At one NRC meeting he remarked how the request for information about the inner-workings was unprecedented, and he himself had never experienced more audits of operations and expenditures than was going on at the time.

Coupled with the other pressures of the job, Stokes has opted for a post appointment from Governor Snyder that will have him working on urban enhancement, part of his previous job for the State Parks.

Replacing Stokes will be Keith Creagh, who has been the Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Governor feels Creagh will do well in the new position as he, "has a strong understanding of Michigan's conservation, economic and environmental needs, vast experience and ability to bring people together and love of our state's great outdoors that will make for a seamless transition."

I truly hope the later is accurate. The two departments, MDARD and MDNR, have polarized for at least the last 16 years, ever since the issue of bovine tuberculosis was at its peak in 1996.

During that period, Ag was blaming the hunters for their woes, pinning baiting and feeding of wildlife as the main culprit for spreading the disease in the hot zone of northern Lower Michigan.

The MDNR agreed that massive feeding of wildlife had all the potential of spreading disease as the bacteria was suspended in the cooler months and thus could be spread as deer inner-mingled with cattle.

The issue had huge complications for the agricultural industry as Michigan's beef were quarantined from sale outside state lines.

The Natural Resources Commission and MDNR adopted a reaction policy and implemented a ban on baiting and winter feeding of wildlife in the entire Lower Peninsula.

They also called for restrictions on the movement of feed products throughout the state, again understanding that contaminated product could spread the disease.

It was later made evident that not only did the MDRAD and MDNR not align to battle the problem, Ag actually bristled to be questioned as to why they did not assist with restricting the movement of feed outside the affected area, and that some herds were being transported north into the Upper Peninsula for summer pasturing.

Later, with the find of Chronic Wasting Disease spread to several states and Canadian Provinces far removed from where it was first found in Colorado, the two agencies did combine in the investigation and policy efforts in developing an action plan to keep it out of our state.

Since then, they seemingly re-polarized over the issue of feral swine and game ranches since Michigan declared them an invasive species.

The order came from the MDNR after years of waiting for the captive game ranches to come up with a comprehensive plan to keep the pigs from escaping their facilities that included a monitoring and reporting system for tracking.

Instead, the "we/they" stance taken pit MDNR and MDARD against each other with Ag taking the stance that natural resource concerns start outside the fence line of private game ranches and the MDNR should only concern themselves from that point on.

Also, the MDNR has carried a perpetual black eye ever since attempting to increase license fees for hunting, only to have it discovered that $10 million remained in the Fish & Game fund balance, giving the impression they were purposefully hiding it from the public.

Although it was demonstrated the account and money had been present and reported publicly since becoming policy in 2000, it began a long process of being scrutinized both by the Michigan Legislature and certain factions of the public, some of which turned out to be "crying wolf" (which in and of itself did become an issue of high profile).

While always being a federal issue, the de-listing of the grey wolf also put the MDNR and MDARD at odds as many misunderstood the issue, blaming the MDNR for lack of action and frustration from owners of livestock in not having a legal means of protecting their investment.

The anti-conservation and anti-hunting factions led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) were instrumental in stopping progress and increasing the costs of resolve for all involved, yet the MDNR took most of the public negative comment for not getting it done.

The MDNR has also become the pet child of the Michigan Legislature. This to me is one of the most frightening of all occurrences and something Creagh will have to devote much attention too.

The fact is Creagh is now the MDNR Director.

He has credentials and a passion for the work he does. He was recommended by the Governor's Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and Director of Strategy Bill Rustem. Both have strong ties to conservation and resources management.

Now is the time for all concerned to give him a chance on getting established and hope he will be able to demonstrate his ability to do the job and curtail some of the senseless bickering that has been ongoing for too long.

Only time will tell if he can pull it off.

- - -

Tim Kobasic is 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 Saturday mornings.

 
 

 

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