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Bill aims to restrict state's ability to manage for biodiversity


If you're feeling like you've heard this story before... you're right.

Senator Tom Casperson-R (Escanaba) has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 78, that would prohibit the DNR from setting aside an area of land specifically for the purpose of maintaining biological diversity (basically, to protect the variety of plants and animals that live in an area).  The DNR could not make or enforce a rule to do that.

This bill is similar to one Senator Casperson introduced last fall, SB 1276.

Casperson says he’s concerned the DNR wants to set aside too much land, and that people won’t have access to it.

“If they’re focusing on biodiversity and that's including the idea and concept of keeping people out of it, I guess that’s one thing I’m going to challenge, because they’ve been marching forward pretty hard with that kind of stuff,” he says.

Governor Rick Snyder told Michigan Radio’s Stateside in November that he did not support SB 1276.

Senator Casperson says this time around, he thinks the bill stands a better chance, because he says he can work it out with the governor.

“The problem I think we get caught up in is, when we do something like this, it becomes an all or nothing thing. Where, you know, you don’t care for the environment because you don’t go along with a biodiversity stewardship area, well, it’s not that I don’t go along with it. I’ve supported set asides, I’ve supported wilderness areas, I’ve voted for those things. But I do think there needs to be more oversight than what has been happening in the past,” says Casperson.

So he wants that oversight to come from the Legislature.

If the bill is signed into law, it would change the way DNR manages land.

It takes away the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties.

It requires the DNR to balance management with economic values. 

And it strikes language from an existing act that states that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

Brad Cardinale is a professor of conservation biology at the University of Michigan.

“That is an extremely well justified scientific principle that humans are the direct cause of modern biodiversity loss. By striking it, it leads me to believe that Casperson is perhaps not aware of the vast scientific evidence for that,” he says.

Cardinale says areas with more biodiversity offer all kinds of benefits for people and wildlife... and he says this bill doesn’t consider those.

“And all of the language is essentially arguing that we need to give people higher priority to have access to the land, to be able to extract resources from the land.”

Governor Snyder is expected to assign a state agency to analyze the bill. The DNR will probably be the agency to do that.

Bill O’Neill is the Chief of the Forest Resource Division for the DNR. He says it’s too soon to say how exactly the DNR would be affected, but...

“It certainly would make it more difficult for us to manage solely or at least for a primary objective of biodiversity. It wouldn’t prohibit us from doing it but it would prohibit us from designating a particular area just for that,” says O'Neill.

He says the DNR is planning to sit down with Senator Casperson and the co-sponsors of the bill to see if they can find a compromise.

“When folks characterize biodiversity as a complete no-touch type of environment I don’t think that’s really an accurate depiction of what anybody’s looking for.”

O’Neill says just because an area is designated for biodiversity doesn’t mean that nothing else can happen there. 

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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