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Senate committee Republicans vote to gut Michigan Endangered Species Act

SB 78 undercuts biological diversity management tools
Feb 21, 2013
The Michigan Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee today voted to prohibit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from taking actions for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.

SB 78, passed in a party line vote, (5-1) would forbid the state to act under Michigan’s Endangered Species Act, or a number of other laws if the action designated or classified land for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity.

“By banning any rule or order that was designed to protect biological diversity, the legislation mandates that the Department of Natural Resources ignore science when making important decisions designed to enhance both the economic and recreational value of Michigan’s natural resources,” said Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

Professors from Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Northern Michigan University all testified against the bill as failing to recognize the economic importance of maintaining diversity when managing natural resources.

Environmental and conservation groups including the Michigan Environmental Council, the Michigan Botanical Club, the Stewardship Network and Michigan Audubon Society opposed the legislation. No one from the Department of Natural Resources or any state department testified on the bill.

MEC Analysis

SB 78 would completely redefine “conservation” and restrict or remove the ability of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to consider the diversity of Michigan’s flora and fauna when managing state forests.

Michigan can rightfully boast about our Great Lakes and our incredibly rich array of different plants, animal and natural communities. Protecting, enhancing, and restoring that biological diversity in our forests, fisheries and dunes -- among the most biologically diverse of any state in the country -- is both scientifically sound and good economics. In addition to creating great places to camp, hike, hunt and see nature, managing lands for ecosystem health and genetic resilience ensures that our forests can survive new invasive species and other threats.

The intent of SB 78, introduced by lead sponsor Sen. Tom Casperson, is purported to stop implementation of a very specific program -- the DNR’s proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area) program.

If that were its only target, it would still be bad policy. The Living Legacies program is not a "set aside" that would lock up land. It's the opposite. It's a management tool, designed to help the state and private landowners recognize and understand where intact and "functional" natural communities exist, or could most easily be reestablished. By enhancing these places through normal land management activities (including selective timber harvest and responsible outdoor recreation), Michigan would grow stronger economically as our great outdoors become more ecologically stable, more beautiful, more genetically resilient and more fun to play in.

Regardless, the bill is not specific to the Living Legacies program. It is a set of sweeping changes to the scientific principles that guide all state land management. Specifically, it amends current law to:

• Revise the definition of "conservation" with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.

• Prohibit the DNR or Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either (the only portion specifically targeting the proposed BSA program).

• Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR's duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.

• Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.

• Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

SB 78’s stunning assumption is that the perpetual survival of native species and natural communities is not of critical importance to Michigan and its residents.

In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, the legislation may also endanger other DNR programs like forest certification, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets.

Places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed in part based on their biodiversity values, but are also popular places to experience Michigan’s wildlife, history and cultural icons. ###
James Clift, 517-256-0553
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