Environment Picture

Milliken: Conserving a legacy—Michigan’s natural wonders

Barely one percent of DNR lands get natural area designations. The following is an opinion column from former Gov. William Milliken regarding natural areas protection, printed on March 2, 2008 in the Lansing State Journal.

What would Michigan be today without such crown jewels as Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Tahquahmenon Falls and the Jordan River?
The foresight, passion and hard work of citizen advocates and public servants have assured that Michiganders today can enjoy the unspoiled beauty of these and many other special places in Michigan. And we in turn have an opportunity to protect other gems for those who will come after us.

When the Department of Natural Resources soon finalizes the designation of 1,244 acres of Algonac State Park as an official state natural area, the DNR will be using a tool that the Legislature fashioned and I signed into law in 1972.
The Wilderness and Natural Areas Act enables citizens and the state to identify and protect in perpetuity the most scenic, sensitive or scientifically significant areas on state-owned land. The Algonac site will protect some of the last remaining lake plain prairie and oak openings in the state—a landscape that once stretched across more than 600,000 acres of southern Michigan.

Algonac, like 20 other areas designated under the 1972 law, will enjoy protection from road-building, timber harvest, mineral development and other activities.

As Gov. Harry Kelly said in 1944 when proposing protection of Porcupine Mountains, these areas become part of a permanent outdoor “museum” that showcases the state’s finest natural attributes. But, they are still open to public use for hiking, birding, canoeing, cross-country skiing, hunting, fishing, outdoor education and more.

Like many other important conservation programs, the DNR’s natural areas effort has suffered from shrinking budgets. Before Algonac, the last area formally protected under the law was Saugatuck Dunes in 1988, thanks in part to the work of Patricia Birkholz, then a local official, and now a much-respected Republican conservation voice in the Michigan Senate.

Twenty years between the designation of new natural areas is simply too long.

I am encouraged that the DNR has moved ahead to protect a portion of Algonac State Park as a natural area. But, even when that designation is complete, only about 1.1 percent of all DNR-managed land will be protected. I hope the agency and Michigan citizens will join in working to protect additional deserving areas.

Among areas worthy of protection are about 2,820 acres of Ludington State Park, a 19,000-acre portion of Tahquahmenon Falls State Park, and more than 1,000 acres in three portions of the famous Pigeon River Country State Forest. These areas contain spectacular sand dunes and old-growth white pine—Michigan’s signature tree and habitat for nesting loons, bald eagles and osprey.
While tight budgets constrain some state activities, the task of protecting natural areas is too important to let languish. At little or no cost to the taxpayer, and without interference with any private property rights, we can conserve some of the last remnants of the original Michigan.

The leadership of Gov. Jennifer Granholm and DNR Director Rebecca Humphries, and the support of Michigan citizens, are essential to the task of carrying forward the job begun by conservationists 100 years ago.
RELATED TOPICS: conservation, land use
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