Commission meets in Muskegon, hears public on natural resources



At far left, Assistant Attorney General Peter Manning of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agricultural Division  and, fourth from left, Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh with NRC members, left to right, Rex E. Schlaybauer, Jr., chairman emeritus of Dykema Gossett; Annoesjka Steinman  Executive Director of Blandford Nature Center; John Matonich, a surveyor who is currently the CEO of ROWE Professional Services Company, who chaired Thursday’s meeting; sportswoman Louise Klaar, a Kinship Conservation Fellow and chair of the Maggie Creek Ranch in Nevada; and Timothy Nichols, principal in Labor-Management Fund Advisors LLC.

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

At a time when many governments seem to be uncomfortable with public input into their affairs, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) continues its decades-long tradition of encouraging public comment.

Formerly the Conservation Commission, the NRC was created in 1921 to guide the activities and policies of the Michigan Department of Conservation, also created that year. The commission’s current name stems from the department’s 1968 change to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Over the last 45 years, the DNR has had the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) carved out of it, been reintegrated with the DEQ, and is now again a separate agency, charged with “the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations.”

But the commitment to providing an open channel of communication for members of the public remains to the present day — more specifically, to last Thursday, when the NRC held its monthly meeting in Muskegon.

Though Commissioner Annoesjka Steinman is the Executive Director of Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, she lives in Norton Shores. Her husband, Dr.  Alan Steinman, is the Director of the Annis Water Resources Institute, a Grand Valley State University research facility located right on Muskegon Lake, and he invited the commission to meet there.

The DNR, which also houses the Michigan Historical Commission, has the following goals: protect natural and cultural resources; ensure sustainable recreation use and enjoyment; enable strong natural resource-based economies; improve and build strong relationships and partnerships; and foster effective business practices and good governance. In addition, the NRC itself has exclusive authority “to regulate the taking of game,” based on voter adoption of a proposal in 1996.

Commissioners Louise Klarr, Vice-Chair John Matonich, Timothy Nichols, Rex Schlaybaugh (a corporate law and finance attorney at Dykema Gossett, who also served as its chair and CEO 1002-2011), and Steinman attended. John Madigan and J.R. Richardson, who is the chair, were absent.

In addition, there were DNR staff members in abundance, including Director Keith Creagh, appointed in 2012 after a long career in the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), capped by an appointment as MDARD director.

Creagh joined a list of DNR Directors with familiar names that grace many state parks and facilities: P.J. Hoffmaster, Gerald E. Eddy, and Ralph A. MacMullan, and others.

Thursday morning the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee met at Muskegon State Park  (MSPAC), which has one of only four luge tracks in the U.S. as well as a summer luge that does not require ice. At the Committee of the Whole meeting later on, Commissioner Tim Nichols and Director Keith Creagh bantered back and forth about their “great time” riding the luge, during Nichols’ report on the MSPAC meeting.

Commissioners said they would like to come back and try luging on ice.

The MSPAC, Nichols reported, had voted to support new funding recommendations for state parks and facilities, which the NRC will consider next month.

After the morning meeting, the NRC Policy Committee on Wildlife and Fisheries met and made presentations for the commissioners. Some of that committee’s proposals came up for consideration during the Committee of the Whole meeting. For example, the commission approved a provision that individual’s ground blinds used for hunting deer could be placed on state land starting Sept. 1, to bring the requirements in line with the start date for tree stand placement.

Creagh’s report, which involved several staff members present, was the first agenda item on the NRC Committee of the Whole meeting at 3 p.m.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, it was reported, has allowed the state government to develop an interdepartmental  approach to the threat posed by aquatic invasive species, according to staff members involved. This involves not only the DNR but the DEQ,  MDARD and Department of Transportation. Strategies include everything from prevention, accomplished on a vector control basis with three vectors targeted, to deployment exercises should emergency response be required due to spotting a threatening organism like one of the Asian Carp species.

The director’s report also covered completion of the public lands management strategy. Goals include maintaining a diversity of landscapes and conservation sources, as well as growing local economies through tourism and other uses of land resources.

Trevor Van Dyke, Legislative Liaison and Policy Advisor, was on vacation, but filed a report about SB 445, currently in committee. This bill would remove DNR authority to revise the list of prohibited species. The bill, if passed, would allow only MDARD, after consulting with DNR, to recommend additions or deletions to the prohibited species list to the Legislature. No position was taken.

After a brief ceremony honoring the drivers of recreational vehicles on a tour to promote the state park Recreation Passport, which resulted in an increased sales, the Commission heard comments.

First up was frequent visitor Amy Trotter of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, to let the NRC know of that powerful organization’s policy priorities. These include a request for the state to organize and promote a response to Lake Erie algae blooms and phosphorus loading; a recommendation to create a Fisheries and Wildlife Habitat Trust Fund to receive the money from “the sale of the state’s non-renewable national resources” once the State Parks Endow Fund reaches its cap; and support for increasing the fishing license fees.

The bulk of the rest of the comments concerned prohibition of spinning-wing decoys. A three-year ban on these robot ducks in the Shiawassee River State Game Area was deemed beneficial to  area duck hunting, though more by the research many of the commenters performed than by the DNR’s evaluation.

Some local sportsmen commented that, though they were not opposed to tribal use of gill nets per se, some users were not maintaining the nets, posing a safety hazard. Director Creagh said that the DNR was already investigating.

Residents near Eagle Lake in Cass County and their attorney objected to proposed acquisition of land for access to the lake, feeling it would not accomplish the goal of public access. Creagh addressed them, saying that he intended to sign the land transaction, and that the DNR had met repeatedly with residents to be sure the department did the right thing.

Only one person addressed the controversial wolf hunt. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) member Tom Lyon asked that the DNR grant lower-cost or free hunting licenses to military personnel in a separate action from the wolf hunt so that the issues do not become muddled.

KMWP has undertaken a second referendum signature drive to address the legislature’s “circumvention” of its first.