The Land Cap Bill: The Inside Story

Tags: conservation, land cap bill, Michigan, michigan lcv, public land, public recreation

michigan public land

The Land Cap Bill was introduced in March 2011 by Sen. Tom Casperson (R - Escanaba) to limit state ownership of public recreation land. It passed the Senate in June 2011 and passed the house, today, on a close vote of 58-52. In both the House and Senate, Republicans were split and all Democrats opposed.

The bill, SB 248, initially passed by the Senate placed the entire state under a permanent cap of 4.65 million acres, only 17,000 above its current holdings. Due to heavy conservationist opposition - from hunt clubs to land conservancies to ourselves - the committee was forced to delay its vote.  For our part, that opposition took the form of thousands of messages and phone calls from Michigan LCV members to their legislators. (Thank you everyone that helped!)
When the committee again considered the bill later, another substitute was offered which placed a temporary cap on the whole state and a permanent cap on all of northern Michigan. In northern Michigan, this cap could then only be removed after the Legislature approves a Department of Natural Resources land acquisition plan. This "legislative approval" effectively forces the experts in the DNR to cowtow to political pressure from the Legislature. After seeing the results of this vote today, we think it is abundantly clear that the Legislature cannot be considered "experts" on Michigan land use. 
In the same House committee, though, yet another substitute bill was offered, this one as a compromise. It made a bad bill slightly less bad by at least protecting the Lower Peninsula and only subjecting the Upper Peninsula to "legislative approval". The compromise - informally called the Schmidt Amendment for Rep. Wayne Schmidt's leadership on it - would have been distasteful, though palatable, for many conservation groups including the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Trout Unlimited, and ourselves. With that noted, the Natural Resources Committee passed the amended compromise bill.
Yesterday, though, with the ammended bill on the floor of the State House, the legislature rejected the Schmidt Amendment part of the bill (the compromise). This meant that the permanent land cap once again blanketed all of the northern Lower Peninsula, as well as the UP. Not only did the full State House break the compromise in that way, they also decided to lower the temporary cap to 4.625 million acres and remove the preservation of "natural features" as a goal of the land acquisition plan, among other changes. It added insult to injury.
Finally, today, the State House voted on the bill as noted above: 58-52. Nearly a dozen Republicans recognized this for the bad policy it is, but not enough. In an unusually close vote, the Assault on Pure Michigan progressed and conservation in the Great Lakes State took a real hit. The bill now goes back to the Senate for "concurrence" - match the two bills up to read the same - and then to the Governor for his signature or veto. We will track his choice in real-time, as ever, on "How Green is Your Governor?"
This bill holds public recreation land in the UP and northern Lower Peninsula hostage to the whims of the Legislature. It may also force the sale of public land in the Upper Peninsula to acquire land in other critical parts of the state; robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Outdoor recreation and tourism are vital to our state's economy and the identity of northern Michigan. Public land is an asset to be proud of, not shunned; we promote it in ads across the country and enjoy it in countless ways here, at home, in Michigan.
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Video: Dave Smethurst's excellent analysis of the Land Cap Bill during an Alpena town hall meeting in January