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By law, the state can only own so much land, but that might change

The state of Michigan owns 4.6 million acres of land. But for now, the state can’t buy any more land. That’s because the Michigan Legislature capped the amount of land the state can own.

But there’s a release valve built into the law. Last fall, Governor Rick Snyder asked the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to make a strategic land management plan. If the Legislature likes it, then the land cap will be lifted.

In his special message on energy and the environment last fall, Governor Rick Snyder talked about why he thinks we need a better plan for state land.

“We really don’t have a very strategic outlook on why we have it, what we’re doing with it, and where it’s going to go in the future, and how do we make sure we’re the best stewards of it,” he said.

The DNR has drafted that plan, and the agency’s been collecting public comments on it.

Donna Stine is the DNR’s policy coordinator. She says the people they heard from in southern Michigan want more state land.

“They wanted more water access, they wanted more water trails and other kinds of trails.”

Stine says at the meetings in northern Michigan:

“They loved that they had a large amount of state land. They are very interested in making sure there was a balanced management approach to state land, that it wasn’t all just for timber development but that there was places for peace, solitude and quiet areas too.”

She says the DNR will review the comments and see if they need to change their plan.

The draft plan calls for a lot of things. For example: more public access to lakes and rivers. It calls for the creation of five urban parks, and it seeks to grow the timber industry and have more mineral, oil and gas leasing on state lands.

Stine says the plan will reach Governor Snyder by the end of the month.

Then, it'll be in the Legislature's hands

If the Legislature approves the DNR plan, the land cap will be lifted across the state. If it’s rejected, the land cap will be lifted just in southern Michigan. The cap will stay in place roughly from Clare heading north.

Brad Garmon is the director of conservation and emerging issues at the Michigan Environmental Council.

“It’s kind of a really convoluted process and depends a lot on, I think, the politics of this plan and how it’s received once it hits the Legislature,” he says.

He says some lawmakers argue there’s too much state land. “But actually the vast majority of it, about 3.5 million acres of it, really is managed for timber. It’s managed as a forest asset and then the rest is managed for a variety of other purposes,” says Garmon.

So by that measure, more than three-quarters of all state land is managed for timber.

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