“Reinventing” MDNR Public Engagement – Here’s One Model to Consider

Although we originally intended to write about this year’s round of MDNR Forestry Open Houses and Compartment Reviews, the timelessness and inherent benefits of this public outreach process seemed to offer potential applications to the way many of our State’s natural resources are managed.

During a time when calls for increased accountability, operational “transparency” and finding new ways of doing business have never been greater, this model which predates the compliance requirements of the Forest Certification program would seem to offer a potential solution to answers now being sought through the MDNR’s Strategic Planning process.

Imagine, if you will, similar annual outreach meetings being held around the state where the Department’s plans for Fisheries and Wildlife would be advanced to the general public.  Regional wildlife and fisheries management plans could be proposed for public review and comment.  These plans could also be accompanied by an explanation of the staffing, funding and volunteer engagement which would be necessary in order to achieve these objectives.  The general public, together with the relevant stakeholder groups, would all have the opportunity for input.

This is not to suggest that similar efforts which are already taking place through a variety of public advisory boards and workgroups should not be continued, but the perception seems to exist that these decisions are being made in a manner which precludes this type of public engagement.

We would be the first to acknowledge that many fisheries and wildlife issues cannot be managed in closely defined “compartments” the way our forests can, but the broader regional strategy could be explained on a more local basis and the need for such a management distinction could be more clearly advanced. Such an initiative could be expanded to include the State’s land acquisition and disposal strategy which is also being mandated in response to SB-248, the Land Cap Bill.

We have always been struck by the consistent view of sportsmen (gender-neutral, as always) that “our local DNR biologists, technicians, and C.O.’s are great, but it’s just those people in Lansing.”  A more regionally-based system which taps into those local relationships may go a long way toward breaking down some of those past perceptions.

From the agency funding standpoint, such a regionally-based program could afford the opportunity to explain what can and cannot be accomplished with the financial resources which are available.   Such an initiative would not be intended to turn the decision making process into one which places social considerations ahead of science, but would merely change the way information is delivered and received.

For us to collectively reverse the growing trend of legislative-activism in the management of our natural resources, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources needs to adopt a better means of public engagement which will be seen by the general public as the option of first resort and thereby replace the increasing politicization of resource management.


Oh yes, the dates and locations for this year’s MDNR Forestry Open Houses and Compartment Review meetings can be found through the link which follows.  We will have more detailed information about becoming engaged in this process in a future post.

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About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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