LANSING, Mich. – Bills to reform the manner in which state owned land is managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) were approved by the Senate last Thursday.
The passage of Senate Bills 39 and 40 is the culmination of more than a year’s worth of collaboration between concerned citizens, interested land use stakeholders, and local and state officials.
The bills, which were introduced at the start of the term in January 2015, are a continuation of work from 2012 when the state adopted Sen. Tom Casperson’s legislation that placed a cap on the number of acres the state could own (with certain exemptions) and required the DNR to develop a state land management plan. While the DNR did develop a plan, it did not cover many issues that were raised by citizens and local units of government, so the Legislature determined that this new legislation was needed to improve department policies, regulations and law.
The legislation, therefore, would provide comprehensive land management practices, including providing more access and use, transparency and accountability from government. They are meant to ensure meaningful and long-term reforms are established for all who enjoy the outdoors and publicly owned land.
“Michigan’s natural resources are, in many ways, essential to our lives as Michiganders,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “Being able to reasonably use, manage, enjoy and conserve those resources, whether for recreation, social enjoyment or economic activity, is something we must improve for the future good of our state and those resources.”
As passed by the Senate, SBs 39 and 40 would make reforms in four key areas. The bills would require the state to make payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), swamp taxes, and CFA payments on time and in full or face the cap returning on counties in northern Michigan. They would allow certain counties the ability to object to state land purchases in areas where there is already significant public land ownership. Additionally, they would aim to improve public access to and use of state land, and reform the land transaction process. In exchange for these reforms, the cap on state land purchases that currently above the Mason-Arenac line in northern Michigan would be removed.
“The development of this legislation has been deliberate and thorough, reflecting input from many people and groups over the course of numerous committee hearings and meetings,” said Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart. “As a result, this legislation presents a strategic plan to improve state land management practices, and, I am confident, will provide significant help to our communities and all who enjoy the use of Michigan’s public land.”
SBs 39 and 40 now advance to the state House of Representatives for consideration.