Senate panel OKs Booher private land management legislation

LANSING – Legislation sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher to help educate property owners on the benefits of managing private land for timber harvest, habitat development and recreation was approved Thursday by the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.

“The primary goal of this package is to encourage management of private lands by helping landowners in Michigan learn about the advantages management can offer,” said Booher, R-Evart. “With only 20 percent of Michigan’s 11 million acres of private land actively managed, we are not achieving our full potential – especially concerning forestlands.”

Senate Bill 1057 would allow conservation districts to advise landowners about the value of managing their land for timber harvest, habitat, conservation and recreation, while Senate Bill 1059 would implement changes to the Qualified Forest Program to encourage landowners to enroll in the program and actively manage their forestland.

Ken Ford, a consulting forester from Osceola County, and Rick Lucas, the conservation district forester with Osceola, Lake and Mecosta counties, testified in support of the bills last week.

Other highlights in the six-bill Senate package include:
• Transferring oversight of the Qualified Forest program, from the Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development;
• Requiring the Environmental Assurance Advisory Council to develop an assessment tool designed to help landowners assess the value of managing their lands; and
• Making lands eligible for the 18-mill agricultural exemption if more than half of the acreage is devoted for a combination of agricultural use and use as qualified forest land.

“In the end, these reforms are about developing a partnership between landowners and the state to achieve a common goal – the effective, beneficial and healthy management of our private lands,” Booher said. “The relationship will prove helpful as we work to help landowners learn about additional benefits of owning property.”

SBs 1057-1062 now head to the full Senate for consideration.

A print-quality photograph of Booher, Ford and Lucas is available by visiting the senator’s website at: Click on “Photowire.”