Environment Picture

Conserving Michigan's Natural Resources

Standing up for science and special places

While no natural feature can compete with the Great Lakes in defining our state, Michigan wouldn’t be Michigan without our magnificent forests. And it’s the rich variety of life in the woods—from a red-eyed vireo’s song to the smell of sweet fern in autumn—that lures people into our great outdoors for adventure, relaxation and memories.

Biodiversity also is a fundamental trait of healthy ecosystems, and a basic principle of scientific wildlife management. Natural communities with diverse species and genetic traits are more productive and better able to resist invasive pests that can devastate less diverse ecosystems. They also are more stable in the face of climate change.

Yet, despite staunch opposition from MEC and our allies, lawmakers approved a bill in 2014 that would have blocked state agencies from designating land for the purpose of protecting biodiversity. Driven by ideology and a narrow view of economics, the bill would have taken away basic tools Michigan’s natural resource professionals use to keep our public forests healthy.

The bill threatened to have serious consequences. For instance, it imperiled Michigan’s certifications for sustainable forestry by removing the conservation of biodiversity from the forest management duties of the Department of Natural Resources. Because the law applied to all of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, it also would have hamstrung DNR efforts to control the spread of invasive species and jeopardized Michigan’s compliance with federal threatened and endangered species laws.

Led by Brad Garmon, our director of conservation and emerging issues, MEC staff testified before legislative committees, published op-ed pieces opposing the bill, helped coordinate and publicize the staunch opposition of 133 leading Ph.D.-level scientists, spoke with journalists and rallied our members and allies to take a stand.

Lawmakers passed the bill anyway.

Fortunately, Gov. Snyder saw the anti-science bill for the mistake it was. In a letter explaining why he vetoed it, the governor used language that reflected comments we personally shared with him and his advisors about why the legislation was a bad move for Michigan. The veto letter was a testament to the power of the relationships and influence MEC has built over 35 years at the Capitol, with help from our generous donors.

Preserving and celebrating Michigan’s wild and scenic lands and parks

Hartwick Pines saved from drilling
MEC had a hand in protecting one of Michigan’s best-loved parks from oil and gas drilling. In October 2014 the state was set to auction off the rights to explore and potentially extract oil and gas from beneath Hartwick Pines State Park, home to some of the last remaining old-growth forest in the Lower Peninsula. While no drilling would have been allowed within the park, companies could have developed adjacent property to reach the oil and gas below with directional drilling. In our public comments to the DNR and private meetings with its leaders, we argued that the sights, sounds and smells from such development would spill into the park itself, spoiling its recreational value.

Fortunately, members of the Hartwick family—who donated the land to the state in 1927 with the intent to conserve its resources—weighed in against the leases, and DNR Director Keith Creagh made the wise decision to take the one-of-a-kind park off the auction block by reclassifying its underground resources as “non-development.”

Bring science to coastal dunes management
Brad also led an innovative project to bring the latest science to bear on the management of Michigan’s iconic coastal dunes. Funded by a Coastal Zone Management grant through the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of the Great Lakes, the project was designed to bring the latest research in geospatial analysis, dune ecology and geology to the table so decision makers can take better care of the species, habitats and landscapes of these global treasures. As project activities wrapped up, a picture was emerging of the dunes as a dynamic system that must be managed carefully to limit risks and protect ecological and scenic value. In 2015 we issued a report with our findings and new resources for better understanding—and better protecting—Michigan’s coastal dunes. Learn more at environmentalcouncil.org/coastaldunes

Outdoor assets: more than just nice places to visit
Yet another focus of our conservation work involves making the case that outdoor recreational assets like our parks, dunes and forests are more than just nice places to visit. They also can help address one of Michigan’s biggest economic and social challenges by attracting young families and new enterprises. Brad traveled to conferences all over Michigan and neighboring states to present a blueprint for re-envisioning the role outdoor assets play in community economic development—a message that resonated with many parks professionals and local leaders.
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