My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Preserving for the future

I read an article online at MLive.com about a state senator who wants to cap the amount of land the State of Michigan can own. The gist of it is that local units of government are suffering because the state doesn’t pay property taxes like a private entity does, and therefore, state ownership of land is hurting local units of government. I understand the problem, but the solution is not to cap the amount of land the state owns. For the article, click here.

Here is my reply.

I am opposed to any cap on the amount of land the state owns for many reasons. First, I think that a cap is a backdoor way of eventually raiding, and possibly ending, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. If state ownership of land is capped, then there is no reason for the trust fund to exist any more, and politicians would love to get their hands on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to use for purposes other than what the citizens of Michigan intended it to be used for.

I understand the plight of communities surrounded by state land as far as the reduced funding because of the state’s lower payments in lieu of property taxes. However, does Sen. Tom Casperson believe that there are buyers waiting to purchase any of the state’s land holdings? Wishing something doesn’t make it happen. In fact, what we’ve seen over the last 30 plus years is just the opposite, owners of large parcels of land in Michigan have been selling, even at very reduced prices, or donating their land holdings, to the state to get out from under the property tax burden here in Michigan. I don’t think that Sen. Casperson or David Bertram, legislative team leader for the Michigan Townships Association, would be too happy if the state were to try and sell off some of its land holdings. With property values already depressed, if the state were to put even more land on the market, prices, and assessed values would plummet even further, and local governments would be no better of financially than they are now.

That’s what a cap on the amount of land the state can own would do, because as pointed out in the article, the state owns very little land in the lower third of the lower peninsula, where we need more recreational opportunities, not less. A cap would force the state to try and sell off some of its existing land holdings in order to purchase more land close to the population centers where state ownership of land is lower. It makes sense for the state to develop more recreational opportunities down state, so that the citizens of Michigan don’t have to drive “up north” to enjoy our great state. 

Mr. Bertram complained that “Michigan owns more land than any other state east of the Mississippi”, which is what makes us the envy of all the other states east of the Mississippi. That’s why every weekend we see droves of cars with license plates from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other states heading into Michigan. That’s why I choose to live in Michigan rather than any other state east of the Mississippi, as do many others in this state.

At a time when the state is pouring millions of dollars into the “Pure Michigan” ad campaigns every year, this is no time to cap the amount of land the state owns. The money spent on those ads will be money poured down the drain if people from out of state get here to find the campgrounds full, the beaches crowded, and the woods so full of people that the visitors never want to return. Tourism can play a huge role in turning our state’s economy around, as we are finally starting to learn. But tourism won’t continue to grow if we don’t continue to grow our recreational opportunities for the visitors we seek to attract.

Capping the amount of land the state owns is a shortsighted attempt to solve a funding problem that probably won’t work even if it is tried, for reasons I pointed out earlier. Instead of capping the state’s land ownership, we should be increasing the amount of land the state owns. It is the second best investment we can make, after education, in the lives’ of our children, grand children, and beyond.

Michigan is a unique state, two peninsulas surrounded by the Great Lakes, with vast tracts of forests, and clean, free flowing rivers. We have some of the world’s finest beaches, rocky coastlines, and we have some of just about everything natural that people could want. We have the choice to preserve our state as an oasis of nature in the middle of an industrialized world, or destroy what nature has given us. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to preserve what we have. We owe it to the world as well.

There were people who complained when our Nation Park system was created, and those who continue to complain to this day. However, I think history has proven the complainers to be wrong. Yellowstone National Park wasn’t just the first National Park in the United States, it was the first National Park in the world. We started something which is now called “America’s best idea”, preserving natural areas for future generations. We were the leaders in something that the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to us in doing.

Michigan has always been a leader in preserving our natural areas, this is not the time to change that. Our system of parks and recreational areas is one of the finest in the country. Looking forward with a vision towards the future, we should expand on that even as the rest of the country continues to industrialize. That will make Michigan an oasis of nature that millions of people from neighboring states and even the from around the world, will want to come to in order to enjoy what we can offer that no other state can. People two hundred years from now may not know who we were, but they will thank us for having the foresight to preserve the natural areas in this state. The time to do that is now.

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