Casperson bill to cap the DNR’s land purchases sent to governor

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LANSING, Mich.— A measure to cap the amount of land owned by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has passed the Legislature and has been sent to the governor, said sponsor Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

“While our state lands are valuable assets for the people of Michigan, the DNR needs to develop a plan for state land ownership that better serves the people,” said Casperson. “We must improve management of what is currently owned rather than spending more money to continually make land purchases when the state is not even meeting its obligations on what is currently owned. The everyday citizen is not able to keep land if they can’t pay their property taxes, so why should the state be any different?”

Senate Bill 248 would cap the amount of land that the department can own to roughly 4.6 million acres of land, which is what it currently owns or is in the process of purchasing, plus a small cushion to provide time for them to transition to this new policy. According to the DNR, Michigan owns more land than any state east of the Mississippi, roughly 12 percent of Michigan’s land base. The federal government owns another 3.1 million acres, or 8 percent.

Under the bill, the DNR could continue to acquire land for recreation purposes, such as for connecting trails or accessing other land. Property that is gifted to them would be exempt from the cap.

The bill also requires the DNR to develop a plan for acquisition and sale of land with emphasis in the plan to be placed on lands to be available for multi-use recreation, including motorized and non-motorized uses and public access.  If the Legislature approves the DNR plan by passing another bill, the cap would be removed.

“Senate Bill 248 is a responsible step toward ensuring state resources are more effectively used for tourism and recreation purposes,” said Casperson. “It is important for our state to get a handle on the amount of land that should be publicly owned. As more land is removed from private ownership, our schools, local units of government and economy are impacted.”

Jim Moore, Chippewa County commissioner and member of the Michigan Association of Counties board of directors agrees.

“It is a good step for DNR to have to give notice to counties and communities on land that will be purchased and how much payments in lieu of taxes will be,” Moore said. “The strategic plan process, with local government and public input in the planning process, is also an improvement. How the input is gathered and how decisions are made will be the test.”

SB 248 awaits the governor’s signature.