The final draft of the Public Land Management Strategy has been completed and is now in the hands of Governor Snyder. After the completion of gubernatorial review and approval, the document will then head back to the State legislature pursuant to the terms of the Michigan Land Cap Bill, a.k.a. Senate Bill-248. It may be recalled that SB-248 limited state owned and managed land to 4.6 million acres. This cap was to remain in place until May 2015, unless the Michigan Department of Natural Resources could develop a strategic plan found to be acceptable to state lawmakers.
The draft plan was disseminated for public comment and was the subject of a series of public meetings held around the state last spring. Based upon the comments which were shared with us and others as a part of this initiative, supporters of public land seemed to be most concerned about the absence of details surrounding the process for the disposal of land in general, and specifically the estimated 240,000 acres which had been identified as a part of this strategic planning effort.
Page 26 of the final draft includes the description of a process which is reflective of what many had sought during the public comment period. The first key provision relates to the identification of “excess lands.”
“These acres will be reviewed by the DNR, local units of government and the public on a county-by-county basis utilizing criteria that recognize the objectives and metrics identified in this plan. Based upon the criteria, parcels will be placed into one of four categories: dispose, offer to a local unit of government or alternative conservation owner, make available for exchange, or retain in state ownership.”
After lands have been selected for potential disposal, a further opportunity for public comment has been proposed via the Natural Resources Commission.
“The public has an opportunity to provide comment on proposed disposals at the Natural Resources Commission prior to the formal approval of the land disposal by the Director.”
In our view, the most critical element of current practice which has been preserved as a part of this process relates to the use of the revenues resulting from the sale of public land. Although partially dictated by current state law, a plan which requires that revenue resulting from the sale of state-owned public land be returned to the fund of its origin is immensely important. Absent that provision, the temptation of some lawmakers to view public land as an asset that can be sold in order to fund personal priorities could potentially have been significant. The final draft of the plan reads as follows:
“As with current practice, DNR-managed public lands are available for exchange at any time. Proceeds from the sale of land are deposited into the fund that was used to purchase the lands. For example, the proceeds from the sale of lands purchased with the assistance of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) are deposited back into the MNRTF. Proceeds from the sale of lands acquired through tax reversion are deposited into the Land Exchange Facilitation Fund. Laws govern how the funds can be used.”
Given the level of vitriol which was being expressed by some about public land during the debate surrounding SB-248, the final draft of this strategy for the management of state land is a positive reflection of the public engagement process. It preserves the Department’s traditional resource management values while at the same time recognizing the demands of a changing state and culture.
Let us all hope that it survives the inevitable legislative nitpicking and is ultimately adopted.