Biodiversity: Key to healthy forests, yet target of terrible proposed law
A proposal in Michigan’s legislature (SB 78) would needlessly undercut longstanding and important protections that are helping restore Michigan’s natural resources and safeguard the genetic diversity of plants and animals managed on state lands.
MEC opposes this ill-advised legislation, and has provided the following testimony to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
We’ve asked supporters to call or email the bill’s sponsors and let them know you support managing state lands for biodiversity. Please consider joining the effort!
Other bill sponsors:
Patrick Colbeck: 517-373-7350, SenPColbeck@senate.michigan.gov
Arlan Meekhof: 517-373-6920, SenAMeekhof@senate.michigan.gov
David Robertson: 517-373-1636, SenDRobertson@senate.michigan.gov
Michael Green: 517-373-1777, SenMGreen@senate.michigan.gov
Darwin Booher: 517-373-1725, SenDBooher@senate.michigan.gov
Howard Walker: 517-373-2413 SenHWalker@senate.michigan.gov
Comments on Senate Bill 78 – Michigan Environmental Council Opposes
What Is Senate Bill 78?
SB 78 would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994). Specifically, the bill would amend PART 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) to do the following:
- Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
- Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either.
- Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
- Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
- Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.
The bill also would repeal several sections pertaining to the Joint Legislative Working Committee on Biological Diversity (which was dissolved on December 30, 1995).
Why MEC Opposes SB 78
We believe that this proposed legislative is fundamentally flawed in its conception and approach. We oppose the proposed revisions and stand behind PART 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) as they currently exist in Michigan law.
Michigan is blessed with a wide variety of native plant and animal species and communities. These are an asset that must be actively protected with every tool available. The stewardship of threatened and endangered species, the protection of functioning natural communities, and the restoration of native plants and wildlife are concepts that date back more than 100 years in Michigan.
The DNR is right and justified in deploying the best scientific and professional expertise and strategies to ensure “the continued existence and normal functioning of native species and communities” in Michigan, i.e., in undertaking active biological conservation or managing for biodiversity.
Protecting, enhancing, and restoring Michigan’s biological diversity (including ecosystem, species, and genetic diversity) is a completely logical and scientifically sound management tool. It protects the natural communities and native plants and animals of Michigan, and ensures a healthy and robust natural system for this and future generations. Biological diversity is a fundamental part of a mission that lies at the foundation of Michigan’s long tradition of strong and responsible public land management. Managing lands for biodiversity and ecosystem health and genetic resilience ensures that our forests can survive new invasive species, such as emerald ash borer, and our fisheries can withstand diseases such as VHS.
Biodiversity, as a management tool for enhancing and restoring Michigan’s native natural ecosystems, is entirely in keeping with the idea of the Michigan’s agencies are stewards of the public trust, and the caretakers of Michigan’s abundant natural beauty and healthy ecosystems.
As such, we are opposed to SB 78 and its assumption that the perpetual survival of Michigan’ native species and natural communities (as represented by the diversity of plant, animal and genetic material managed on state lands) is not of critical importance to Michigan and its residents. Tools such as sustainable forestry and land designation to protect vital natural features and communities are key tools in achieving the DNR’s mission and preserving our great natural resource legacy; we see no reason to eliminate them.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
A healthy and diverse representation of Michigan’s native and natural plant and animal communities provides countless social, environmental and cultural benefits to the state of Michigan. Diverse ecosystems with a strong and healthy population of native species are more robust, more resilient in the face of natural disasters and disease, and provide for a healthy interconnected web of plants and animals.
Healthy, diverse ecosystem also provide a host of important natural functions, including air and water cycles, the creation and breakdown of natural nutrients and breakdown of pollution. Diverse natural systems might also provide important biological benefits in the future, such as food, medicine, and gene diversity.
In Michigan, our rich and diverse natural communities also drive a large recreation and tourism economy, support healthy agriculture and forestry industries, and improve our quality of life.
Tools to protect, restore and enhance those natural communities should be encouraged at all levels – state, local and private organizations and individuals. Moreover, the state agencies charged with supporting this large task should be empowered.
Specific Problems with SB 78:
1. Definitional Changes Remove Key Ecological Concepts. The proposed definitional changes remove at least four concepts that were central to the state’s approach to “biodiversity conservation” as articulated in the original law:
- Restoration. Restoration of biological diversity is a vital function of natural resources management in Michigan. Science tells us that simply trying to preserve what is left is not adequate to counter the many threats to native species and natural communities. Michigan should also (and has for more than a century) worked to restore and enhance native communities that are undermined by bad management or human activity, threatened by invasive species, or weakened by other factors.
- Quantity and Variety. The original law states that “as much of the variety of native species and communities as possible” should be protected, restored and enhanced. This provision should be retained, as science again tell us that diversity provides our natural communities with greater health and resilience. Also, the amazing variety of plant and animal life found in Michigan is one of our state’s greatest assets and responsibilities. It is our responsibility to identify, protect and restore examples of Michigan’s natural heritage and native diversity.
- Viability and Distribution. The original law specifically suggests that the state should focus on “viability of populations” and ensuring that these populations be located “throughout the natural geographic distributions” of native species and communities. These are key scientific principles for ensuring a healthy ecosystem in Michigan, since small, isolated pockets of native plants or animals, cut off from their original natural “range” will never be as healthy or resilient as those that are located in a wide range and in robust numbers.
- Continued Existence and Normal Functioning of native species and communities. The law’s original intent was clearly to ensure that Michigan’s native species and communities be allowed to thrive alongside human activity. It is critical that Michigan’s leaders not forfeit this responsibility, but instead retain the provision that clarifies the ultimate goal of biological conservation or biodiversity management is to support these native species and communities in their “continued existence and normal functioning” in perpetuity, so they will always be part of Pure Michigan.
Currently the law state provides the following definitions:
324.35501(c) “Conserve”, “conserving”, and “conservation” means measures for maintaining natural biological diversity and measures for restoring natural biological diversity through management efforts, in order to protect, restore, and enhance as much of the variety of native species and communities as possible in quantities and distributions that provide for the continued existence and normal functioning of native species and communities, including the viability of populations throughout the natural geographic distributions of native species and communities. (emphasis added).
The proposed law would delete that definition and replace it with the following. We oppose these changes:
324.35501(B) “CONSERVATION OF BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY” MEANS MEASURES FOR MAINTAINING BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY WHILE ENSURING ACCESSIBILITY, PRODUCTIVITY, AND USE OF THE NATURAL RESOURCES FOR PRESENT AND FUTURE GENERATIONS.
Note: Biological Diversity in both current and proposed law remains the same and is defined as:
324.35501(c) Biological Diversity means the full range of variety and variability within and among living organisms and the natural associations in which they occur. Biological diversity includes ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity.
We feel the original language should be retained.
2. Creates unnecessary prohibitions on the DNR and its land management tools.
The proposal bill prohibits the DNR (or other agency) from designating land for the purpose of maintaining biological diversity. The bill’s sponsor has stated in the past that his intent with this legislation is to eliminate, once and for all, the DNR’s fledgling “Living Legacies” or Biodiversity Stewardship Areas program. In doing so, SB 78 attacks instead the very idea that the state has a critical role to play in protecting and improving the state’s natural systems and native plants and animals.
Designating land for the protection of biodiversity is entirely in line with the DNR’s mission and the goals of the state of Michigan. Without targeted protection and restoration, Michigan is likely to lose many of its best and most representative native plants and natural communities. Many organization and agencies are dedicated to ensuring this does not happen, and the Michigan DNR should be able to use land designation as a tool to aid in its mission of protecting and conserving the resources of the state.
Notably, designation for biodiversity conservation purposes does not mean that land would necessarily be “hands off” or “no management,” in fact, we can find no example where that has been the case. Instead, restoring and enhancing native plant and natural communities has been more likely to require very sophisticated management and to provide more opportunities for Michigan’s residents and visitors to see and appreciate our amazing assets – places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed at least in part for their biodiversity values, but are also popular places for wildlife viewing and a chance to experience Michigan’s history and cultural icons.
Land managed for biodiversity is an asset, not a liability, and is fitting with Michigan’s long tradition of using the best of science-based approaches to land management.
The following language is proposed in SB 78. We oppose these changes:
Sec. 504. (7) THE DEPARTMENT, DIRECTOR, OR COMMISSION SHALL NOT PROMULGATE OR ENFORCE A RULE OR ISSUE OR ENFORCE AN ORDER UNDER THIS ACT THAT DESIGNATES OR CLASSIFIES AN AREA OF LAND SPECIFICALLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACHIEVING OR MAINTAINING BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, AS DEFINED IN SECTION 35501, AND SUCH A RULE OR ORDER IS VOID.
We believe this section should not be added.
3. Undermines DNR’s duties and risks opportunities regarding forest management.
In several sections, the proposed bill would remove biological conservation, restoration and ecosystem considerations from the DNR’s toolbox of good forest management, and insert concepts around economic return and valuation.
Habitat management, biological diversity and ecosystem considerations are fundamental tools of modern forest management, and it makes no sense to remove these from the DNR’s mission or goals as it relates to forest management. Beyond simply guiding sound land stewardship, these principles are also the foundation of the state’s investment in sustainable forestry certifications, which require plans and programs to protect biological diversity. Turning our back on these approaches now would reduce our ability to secure federal funds for programs such as Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and cooperative agreements for pest management (Emerald Ash Borer), Fire Management, and Private Land Stewardship programs with the US Forest Service, USDA and others.
Biodiversity is also fundamental to the state’s Forest Action Plan, which helped Michigan bring in $22 million for cooperative agreements in recent years, including $800,000 in Great Lakes Restoration Funds for five projects including Chevy in the Hole restoration efforts in Flint. Removing biodiversity as a forest management tool available to the DNR risks the state’s ability to do cooperative agreements to handle EAB, Fire Management, and Private Land stewardship programs. It would undermine our eligibility for program such as America’s Great Outdoors or other emerging programs, many of which include biological diversity as a goal.
Ignoring biodiversity, aquatic health and other key features of a healthy forest may also put the state in direct conflict with federal requirements related to threatened and endangered species. Similarly, substituting “voluntary silviculture practices” for state and federal requirements is not acceptable.
The following language is proposed in SB 78. We oppose these changes:
Sec. 52502. (2) (iv) Plan and manage PLANNING AND MANAGING plantations in accordance with sustainable forestry principles and in a manner that complements the management of and promotes the restoration and conservation of natural forests.
Sec. 52502. (2) (b) Conserve and protect forestland by doing all of the following:
(iii) Manage SUBJECT TO SECTION 504(7), MANAGING the quality and distribution of wildlife habitats and contribute to the conservation of biological diversity by developing and implementing stand and landscape-level CONSIDERING measures that promote habitat diversity and the conservation of forest plants and animals including aquatic flora and fauna and unique ecosystems WHILE BALANCING ECONOMIC VALUES.
Sec. 52502. (2) (b) (vi) Manage MANAGING activities in high conservation value forests by maintaining or enhancing the attributes that define such THOSE forests WHILE BALANCING ECONOMIC VALUES.
Sec. 52502. (e)(i) Require REQUIRING that forest management plans and operations comply with applicable federal and state laws.VOLUNTARY SILVICULTURAL PRACTICES.
We oppose these changes and suggest the original language be retained.
4. Refutes clear scientific evidence
SB 78 proposes to delete a legislative finding that states most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity. The legislature should retain the following (proposed for deletion), as there is clear scientific evidence that this is true:
Sec. 35502. The legislature finds that: (b) Most losses of biological diversity are unintended consequences of human activity.
SB 78 is unnecessary and counterproductive. We oppose the proposed revisions and stand behind PART 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) as they currently exist in Michigan law.