Booher: State land acquisition cap to be signed

LANSING — A measure to cap the amount of land that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can own is on its way to the governor to be signed, said Sen. Darwin Booher.

“This is about establishing a long-term state land management strategy,” said Booher, R-Evart. “Our state forests and parks offer outstanding outdoor opportunities for Michigan families, but often funds that could help maintain or improve these assets are used to simply buy more land.”

Senate Bill 248 would cap the amount of land that the department can own to what it currently owns and pending purchases, roughly 4.65 million acres or 12 percent of Michigan’s land base. According to the DNR, Michigan owns more land than any state east of the Mississippi. 

The bill requires the DNR to consider the expenses associated with land, such as payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) and the loss in tax revenues to local governments before a purchase is made.

“The state routinely makes PILT payments on its lands to our schools and locals both late and for a fraction of what the land would generate in revenue if it was privately owned,” Booher said. “I believe that the state should not be buying more land when it is not meeting its obligations and cannot afford to properly maintain its current lands.”

Booher noted an intent of the bill is to have the DNR develop a plan for state land ownership that better serves the people. If the Legislature approves the DNR’s plan by passing another bill, the statewide cap would be removed. If a plan is not approved by May 2015, a cap of 3,910,000 acres would remain for Northern Michigan counties above the Mason-Arenac county line.

“When considering how much of our state land the government will own, we must ask ourselves: ‘When is enough, enough?’” Booher said. “A cap will force the state to make an evaluation of all the land it considers purchasing and land it already owns. It will require the DNR to weigh the benefits of buying more property against using our limited resources to enhance our current state lands or even divesting some of our state lands that might be better used by the private sector.”

Under SB 248 the DNR would still be able to acquire land, such as parcels for connecting trails, land gifted to them or small amounts of property needed for accessing other land.