Casperson working on bill to limit state ownership of land

LANSING — State Sen. Tom Casperson is pursuing legislation to establish a no-net-gain policy for land owned by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Senate Bill 248 would cap the amount of land that the department can own to what it currently owns, roughly 4.5 million acres of land or 12 percent of Michigan’s land base. According to the DNR, Michigan owns more land than any state east of the Mississippi River.

“Our state lands are valuable assets and treasures for the people of Michigan to enjoy,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “While we value the opportunities that some publicly owned lands provide in terms of recreation and tourism, the DNR continues to limit access and use of these lands by the public. It makes little sense for the department to continue to buy land when it cannot properly manage the land it already has.”

Casperson added: “A perfect illustration of this problem occurred this week when the DNR announced its plans to close 23 more state forest campgrounds claiming that it can no longer afford to operate them. Yet the department continues to pursue acquisitions of more land.”

The legislation would allow the DNR to continue to purchase land, such as parcels for connecting trails or property that may be landlocked by state owned land; however, an equal amount would need to be sold and put back into private ownership.

Other states, such as Iowa and Minnesota, are also considering changing their policies concerning state land ownership.

“Given the challenges facing both our state economy and the state budget, we should not be in the business of buying more land. It affects local governments and services, and it also hurts local school districts.” Casperson said. “Before proceeding with more land purchases, the DNR must have a clear land strategy in place and be able to afford to manage the land it owns.”

SB 248 is now under consideration by the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee chaired by Casperson. Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated to Casperson that he supports the concept of the measure.

Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, has introduced House Bill 4473, which is similar legislation in the state House.