Senate approves Caspersons land cap legislation

 

LANSING—The Michigan Senate approved legislation this week to establish a no net gain policy for land owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said Sen. Tom Casperson. 

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. 

“While our state lands are valuable assets for the people of Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources needs to develop a plan for state land ownership that better serves the people. We must improve management of what is currently owned rather than spending more and more money to continually make land purchases,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba, who sponsored the measure. 

Casperson said a real strategy concerning state ownership of land is long overdue, especially at a time when Michigan residents are struggling to pay their bills. It makes little sense for the state to purchase more land when the DNR is admittedly unable to care for the land and facilities it now owns.

A perfect illustration of this problem occurred in April when the DNR announced plans to close 23 more state forest campgrounds claiming that it could no longer afford to operate them, yet the department continues to pursue acquisitions of more land.

Senate Bill 248 allows the DNR to continue to acquire land, such as parcels for connecting trails, land gifted to them or small amounts of property needed for accessing other land.  These types of acquisitions would be exempt from the cap.

“It is important for our state to get a handle on the amount of land that should be owned by government,” said Casperson. “As more land is removed from private ownership, our schools, local units of government and economy are impacted.”

SB 248 now goes to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Casperson: U.P. forest campgrounds to remain open

LANSING―Twenty-three state forest campgrounds, including many in the Upper Peninsula, that were slated for closure will remain open through the end of the fiscal year under legislation recently signed into law.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, worked to procure the necessary funding with Gov. Snyder and colleagues, Sens. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland. Casperson has also sponsored Senate Bill 332, which would allow for the transfer of ownership of the campgrounds to local units of government who want to own them on a long-term basis.

“The important thing is U.P. forest campgrounds will remain open,” said Casperson. “I thank Gov. Snyder for his commitment to fund these campgrounds while we pursue other long-term solutions. This could include transferring the sites to local units of government who want to own and operate them. We were reminded this week that tourism is a massive part of Michigan’s economy, so it cannot be overemphasized how important it is to keep our campgrounds open.”

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan saw the largest one-year increase in tourism spending in state history. Tourism by out-of-state visitors was greater than spending by Michigan residents for the first time ever.

Gov. Snyder thanked the senators for their work.

“These lawmakers have been diligent advocates for their districts and for Michigan tourism dollars in their work to keep these campgrounds open,” Snyder said. “It was a pleasure working with them to make this happen.”

Sen. Walker thanked the administration and the state Department of Natural Resources for working to ensure the campgrounds stay open.

“I am thankful for the cooperation of the governor and the department in securing funding,” Walker said. “For the sake of our residents and the millions of visitors who enjoy the natural wonders Michigan’s campgrounds provide, it was critical that this money was safeguarded.”

Sen. Moolenaar also expressed his appreciation.

“These are the gems of the region and we are glad the department has realized their importance for northern Michigan’s commerce and tourism,” said Moolenaar.

The campgrounds will remain open until other options can be determined.