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Posts from the ‘conservation’ Category

Lawmakers should support reasonable protections for threatened bats

A plan to protect threatened bats from a deadly disease has drawn surprising criticism from a pair of lawmakers who say setting aside just one quarter of one percent of Michigan’s forested land area will have a “chilling effect” on the state’s logging and mining industries.

White-nose syndrome has devastated bat populations across the eastern United States, wiping out more than 90 percent of some colonies. The syndrome is caused by a fungus that infects hibernating bats.

In 2014 the disease was first spotted in Michigan on northern long-eared bats. The Department of Natural Resources expects to see populations of cave-dwelling bats decline by 50 percent to 90 percent over the next two years. In human terms, that’s like a disease that reduced the world’s population to the population of the United Kingdom. Since bats typically only have one or two pups a year, these populations will take many generations to rebuild. (One bright spot: Scientists last week announced that a common bacterium could help protect bats from the disease.)

To address the steep decline of these bats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed to list the northern long-eared bat as threatened with a special rule that bars interference with the species unless certain exemptions are met. Read more

Q&A: Legal scholar proposes world’s longest walking trail around Great Lakes

Here’s a figure to impress the guests at your next cocktail party: The Great Lakes shoreline in the United States and Canada is more than 10,000 miles long—nearly half the circumference of Earth.

Now imagine a walking trail around that shoreline. It would be longer than the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails combined. In fact, it would be the longest public walking trail in the world.

Such a footpath is more than a hypothetical idea. Melissa Scanlan, director of the Environmental Law Center at the Vermont Law School, proposed a Great Lakes Coastal Trail in a recent article in the Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law. Scanlan argues that the trail would provide a tangible way to restore the public’s coastal history and build local tourist economies.

Intrigued, we checked in with Scanlan by email to learn more about her ambitious vision for the trail.

MEC: Why does someone in Vermont care so much about the Great Lakes? What’s your connection to the lakes?

Melissa Scanlan: I grew up in the Lake Michigan Basin of Wisconsin, founded and directed Midwest Environmental Advocates, where I worked as a lawyer to protect the Great Lakes, and have spent many hours enjoying the lake shores, so I understand what a precious and beautiful resource they are for the region. I also saw through my prior work that we need to focus the public’s attention on the significance of the lakes for the region as a cohesive, binational whole. To address this need, build on existing water and property law, and engage the public, I’ve created a blueprint to establish a Great Lakes Coastal Trail on the shores of the Great Lakes. The trail will link together 10,000 miles of coastline and provide the longest marked walking trail in the world. Unlike other National Scenic Trails where most of the trail required new easements, this one will demarcate an already existing, yet largely forgotten, public trust easement. You don’t have to be born rich to be a beneficiary of this trust fund; the Great Lakes Coastal Trail will allow the public to enjoy their common heritage in the lakeshore, which is held by the government in trust for them. Read more

Gov. Snyder stands up for biodiversity. Help us say thanks!

Gov. Rick Snyder today took a stand for conservation and good science by vetoing Senate Bill 78, which would have blocked state agencies from designating land to protect biodiversity.

It takes guts to wield the veto pen, and the governor deserves heartfelt thanks for his leadership from everyone who enjoys our state’s great outdoors.

Please take a moment to call the governor’s office to express your support for his decision.

Call the governor’s office: (517) 373-3400.

Send him a good old-fashioned letter:

Gov. Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909

MEC President Chris Kolb signaled the veto’s importance for future Michiganders’ conservation heritage in a press release applauding Gov. Snyder’s decision.

“Biodiversity means healthy, functioning ecosystems and productive, resilient forests,” Kolb said. “I’m glad the governor has made sure Michigan’s professional resource managers are able to protect biodiversity and all its benefits for future generations.

“Gov. Snyder’s decision today shows a respect for and understanding of science, and honors Michigan’s heritage as a conservation leader,” he added.

In a letter to the Senate explaining his decision, the governor said the bill “causes confusion and inconsistencies and could make it more difficult to sustainably manage Michigan’s Public forests and world class natural resources to meet the changing needs of current and future generations.”

By vetoing the bill, the governor sided with 133 scientists from Michigan universities who sent him a letter highlighting biodiversity’s importance for healthy ecosystems.

Thank you, Gov. Snyder!

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Photo courtesy Kyle Rokos via Flickr.

White River Township seeks funding to purchase lakefront land at center of dune debate

One of MEC’s most-read blog posts was a 2013 analysis that pointed out serious flaws in—and helped build the opposition needed to block—a controversial proposal to develop a road through a public dune preserve on the Lake Michigan coast.

If a new fundraising effort succeeds, the piece of private lakefront property at the center of that debate could soon be open for public enjoyment.

Public attention turned to the two-acre parcel when a developer proposed building a home on the property with an access road through the White River Township Barrier Dunes Sanctuary. The proposal represented the first test of a 2012 law that gutted key provisions of Michigan’s Critical Dunes Act.

Thankfully, the Department of Environmental Quality rejected the proposal from Bro G Land Company, echoing MEC’s arguments that what the proposal called a driveway was, by the state’s definition, clearly a road—one that would have fundamentally changed the scenic character of a public sanctuary carefully preserved and managed by thoughtful leaders.

Following the permit denial, Bro G filed a lawsuit against the township seeking a judgment that it had the right to build the road. That suit ended last month in a settlement that gives White Lake Township 18 months to purchase the property for $900,000. Read more

Celebrate Michigan wildlife December 9!

The following is reprinted from a Michigan Department of Natural Resources press release issued last December. MEC encourages all Michiganders to support wildlife conservation by making a donation to the nongame fund and attending the DNR’s Dec. 9 gala dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Michigan’s Endangered Species Act. Read our recent blog post for more information on the dinner and nongame wildlife management in Michigan.

This is the time of year when charities and other nonprofit organizations remind citizens that they can lower their tax bills by donating to these organizations. The Department of Natural Resources can say the same: contributions to Michigan’s Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund are tax-deductible and the fund is what provides state officials with the money to manage the 80 percent of wildlife species in this state that are not hunted or trapped. (Game species are managed with revenue from license sales.)

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund has changed in several ways since its inception in 1983, though the three main goals remain the same:

• To restore populations of endangered species;
• To maintain healthy populations of animals and plants; and
• To promote — through education and first-hand opportunities to experience wildlife — appreciation for and awareness of Michigan’s diverse wildlife.

When it was first created, the nongame fund raised money through a check-off on the state income tax return. The check-off was discontinued in the 1990s when the fund reached $6 million. The fund continues to generate revenue from interest on the balance, by voluntary contributions, and, of course, the purchase of “Conserve Wildlife Habitat” license plates (Look for the Loon!).

Since its beginning, the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund has raised some $9.5 million to support conservation. Read more

DNR dinner spotlights wildlife funding gap

The numbers confirm what we Michiganders know from experience: We love wildlife. Michigan’s 3.2 million wildlife watchers add $1.2 billion to the state economy every year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

In fact, while hunting and fishing are cornerstones of our state’s outdoor heritage and recreation economy, far more residents pursue wildlife with binoculars or camera than with hook or bullet. A 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 39 percent of Michigan residents watched wildlife, compared to 21 percent who hunted or fished.

The DNR aims to tap into that enthusiasm with a Dec. 9 dinner to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Michigan’s Endangered Species Act. The law has been instrumental in protecting and recovering rare species such as the peregrine falcon and Kirtland’s warbler.

More than just a celebration, DNR officials hope the dinner will provide critical funding for the state’s Nongame Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund, which supports management of species that aren’t hunted, trapped or fished, but form the vast majority of Michigan’s web of life. Tickets are $100, with all proceeds benefiting the fund. (Seating is limited, so get your tickets today!)

Karner blue butterfly

Karner blue butterfly.

Many residents may be surprised to learn that, while 80 percent of Michigan species aren’t hunted or trapped, nongame species receive only five percent of the DNR’s wildlife management budget. In 2013, state funding to manage nongame wildlife totaled just under $472,000. (State nongame dollars also help leverage about $1 million a year in federal grants to Michigan.) By comparison, turkey management received $754,000 in state funding, and the Deer Range Improvement Program alone netted nearly $1.5 million. Read more

To praise and protect: holiday thoughts on Michigan’s public lands

Michigan’s woodlands and waters are warming up, breaking into bloom, and will welcome thousands into their spring-into-summer embrace this beautiful holiday weekend. For me, our annual outdoor awakening brings to mind two simple observations about Michigan’s public lands.

1. They are awesome.

Case in point: I have the privilege of working with the Pigeon River Country Advisory Council to advise the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on management of the largest block of contiguous public land in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It’s a job I take seriously, and I’ve taken some time learning and hoping to understand the place.

I spent Wednesday afternoon poking around the 105,000 acres on foot and by four-wheel drive, and was witness to: three elk crashing away into shadowy trees; a clear small stream bubbling as wind whispered high in tall pines above; and an old log shelter perched atop a broad river valley with blue skies stretching away without end. Trillium in bloom, birds chirping spring through the aspen groves, mushroom hunters prowling the miles of two-tracks and logging roads.

This trip, like too many in my full-time, new-dad lifestyle, was squeezed into the scant few hours before an evening meeting. The PRC is huge, its ecological communities and landscapes ranging from dark cedar swamps to warm, sandy ridges baking in sunlight. In half a dozen such trips over the last year or so—a few camp nights, a handful of slow drives, some long talks and longer hikes, a few books and a winter trail run—I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Pigeon River Country. Such places are rich, deep and challenging, and reward nothing so much as time and careful attention. Read more

Tug of war: Senate approves trails package while House panel cuts funding for—you guessed it—trails

The Senate today approved a package of bills to establish a Pure Michigan Trail Network – an encouraging sign that state lawmakers recognize the important role world-class trails and other outdoor recreation assets can play in growing local economies and enhancing quality of life.

The Senate package allows the director of the Department of Natural Resources to give trails and towns the Pure Michigan designation upon recommendation from the Natural Resources Commission. It also gives a nod to our state’s outstanding paddling by allowing the director to designate Pure Michigan Water Trails.  The bills also would change the Snowmobile and Trailways Advisory Council to the Trails Advisory Council.

“This package will bring the entire Michigan trails system into the spotlight,” said Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. “We have an incredible array of trails of all types, and we want to recognize them all and the towns that embrace them.”

The legislation makes place-based investments in outdoor assets a centerpiece of Michigan’s reinvention strategy, said Brad Garmon, MEC’s director of conservation and emerging issues. It also celebrates best-in-class trails that showcase Michigan’s natural beauty and cultural sites, rather than slapping the Pure Michigan label on lower-profile trails that serve an important practical purpose but don’t reinforce the Pure Michigan brand. Read more

Remembering an icon of environmental law

While we’re embarrassingly late in doing so, we want to note the passing of a giant of environmental law. Joseph Sax, who died March 9 at 78, taught law at the University of Michigan from 1966 to 1986 and pioneered legal principles for natural resources that remain the bedrock of many environmental protections today.

According to Berkeley Law,

Sax began his environmental legal work in the mid-1960s before environmental protection was even recognized as a legal field, and authored the groundbreaking Michigan Environment Protection Act. Popularly known as the “Sax Act,” it was the world’s first modern environmental law based on the public trust doctrine, which identifies natural resources as a public trust that demands protection.

In short, the law enshrined the right of ordinary citizens to take action in the courts to protect air, water and natural resources from pollution or other damage.

As a New York Times obituary notes, the public trust doctrine Sax developed was used in close to 300 state and federal cases between 1997 and 2008, and has been adopted in numerous other countries.

The Sax Act provided the legal framework for one of Michigan’s best-known environmental cases. In the 1970s, environmental groups sued under MEPA to block oil and gas drilling in the Pigeon River Country State Forest – part of a long, complicated court battle that eventually led to an agreement that restricted oil and gas development in the forest and served as a model for resource management.

Sax’s influence also is present in a current case in which Encana Oil and Gas USA and Chesapeake Energy Corporation are charged with colluding to hold down bid prices in a 2010 auction of oil and gas leases. The public trust doctrine is at issue in the case because the companies are alleged to have shortchanged Michigan’s citizens, who the state’s constitution says must benefit—via the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund—when private companies profit from a public resource.

“It would be impossible,” a former student of Sax’s wrote, “to overstate Joe’s influence on environmental and natural resources law over the last half century. In the 1960s, he and a handful of others literally invented the field.”

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Photo: Joseph Sax in 1967. Courtesy University of Michigan Law School.

Michigan’s Sleeping Bear, ‘America’s Most Beautiful Place,’ set to earn Congress’ first wilderness designation in years

(Second update: President Obama signed the bill March 13, designating roughly half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a federal wilderness area!)

(Wednesday morning update! The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on a voice vote late Tuesday, and it is on its way to President Obama’s desk. Said U.S. Senator Carl Levin: “This is good news for all of us who cherish the matchless beauty and the ecological importance of Sleeping Bear Dunes.”)

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Michigan’s iconic and globally rare freshwater dune system is on the verge of getting Congress’ first wilderness designation since 2009, capping more than a decade of discussion about how best to protect one of the region’s signature natural areas while keeping it open to hunters, anglers, beach lovers and others.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act would designate as wilderness 32,500 acres of the park that gained national attention in 2011 when Good Morning America viewers voted it the nation’s most beautiful place. The bill is set for a House vote this evening and is expected to land on President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The bill is a rarity for the polarized 113th Congress, which hasn’t designated a single acre for protection under the Wilderness Act. (Neither did the 112th – the first Congress not to add wilderness since 1966.)  It enjoys bipartisan support among Michigan’s congressional delegation—Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow co-sponsored the Senate version, which passed in June, while Republican Dan Benishek introduced the House bill—and has the backing of local residents and the National Park Service. Read more