Casperson and Booher introduce measures to reform state land management and regulations

LANSING, Mich—Sens. Tom Casperson and Darwin Booher introduced legislation on Tuesday to address concerns raised by Michigan residents, a varied group of land use stakeholders, and local officials regarding state land ownership by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“While our constituents value the benefits public land can offer, we increasingly hear of problems due to unreasonable and unresponsive department rules, regulations and policies related to the enjoyment of state land,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “Some of the issues we routinely hear about involve access and use for recreation, and problems that land-based industries encounter when dealing with the department in land transactions, such as with purchases or sales.

“Over the last few years, we have talked to the department about these issues, but it is time to improve state law to address them for the long-term benefit of Michigan residents, visitors, local units of government and the natural resources with which we are blessed, especially in the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula.”

Senate Bills 39 and 40 are meant to continue the discussion started four years ago with Casperson’s efforts on a state law to cap the amount of land that the DNR can own with certain exemptions in place until a meaningful, comprehensive and strategic public land management plan was developed by the DNR.

While the DNR has developed a plan and presented it to the Legislature, lawmakers have expressed concern that more work needs to be done on the plan, along with improvements to state law to ensure that it fully addresses the many issues related to public land ownership.

“It is understandable that as Senator Casperson and I represent 24 of the 83 counties in Michigan where the majority of state land is located, our communities have asked us to engage on the issue of strategically improving land management on property the state already owns, instead of simply purchasing additional land,” said Booher, R-Evart. “This shift in policy, along with our proposed bills to encourage full and timely tax payments from the state on the land it owns and local approval abilities on state land purchases, will be a significant help to our communities and those that enjoy the use of these lands.”

County Commissioner John Waltman said he appreciates legislation being pursued.

“As a county commissioner from Luce County, which is nearly 52 percent owned by the state, I see a lot of value in the proposed changes to allow local units of government to approve purchases within their boundaries, as well as ensure that PILT and swamp taxes are paid in full,” Waltman said. “Improvements to working through land purchase requests with the department will help our local communities as well.”

Casperson said he welcomes ideas.

“As these bills work through the legislative process, we look forward to working with anybody who would like to engage with us on this legislation and on public land management issues as we look to enact meaningful, necessary natural-resource-related reform that provides balance and sensibility to better serve the state and its residents,” Casperson said.

SBs 39 and 40 have been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. Casperson, who chairs the committee, said he expects the legislation to be discussed at multiple committee hearings to be arranged in the coming weeks.