March 13 2013 12:00 AM

U.P. legislator is trying to undermine the Department of Natural Resources with proposed bill


Friday, March 1 — Even though he’s from the natural-resource rich wilds of the Upper Peninsula, state Sen. Tom Casperson is ticking off a lot of people in the environmental community.  

It started out with his wolf-hunting bill that’s widely unpopular with environmental and animal groups. Now he’s pushing for legislation that opponents say would limit protections for ecosystems and that undermines the state Department of Natural Resources. (This is the same guy who isn’t sure whether President Obama was born in America.)

Hugh McDiarmid, communications director for the Lansing-based Michigan Environmental Council, said legislation introduced by Casperson, R-Escanaba, would endanger delicate ecosystems that are protected by the DNR’s “Biodiversity Stewardship Area Program.”

The Biodiversity Stewardship Area Program allows the DNR to set aside public and private land as areas to be protected to help conserve delicate and unique Michigan ecosystems.

McDiarmid said the legislation is another bill in a series of “tea party wing” inspired legislation that’s been “chipping away” at environmental protections in Michigan.

The entire bill aims to remove the “underpinning of everything the DNR should be doing,” McDiarmid said. However, the DNR is officially neutral on the bill.

The bill would amend parts of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. According to a Senate Fiscal Agency report, the bill would:

  • Prohibit the DNR from enforcing an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biodiversity;
  • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from DNR’s forest management duties;
  • Axe a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration; and
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.

Casperson introduced the bill, SB78, in late January. The bill moved out of the Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes, which Casperson chairs, on Tuesday. McDiarmid said the bill could be voted on in the Senate as early as next Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time Casperson has tried to push the bill. Very similar legislation introduced by Casperson died in a House committee last year before the lame duck session after being passed by the Senate.

In an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, Casperson said the bill aims to stop the DNR from implementing the Biodiversity Stewardship Area Program, which he said “would severely limit or preclude human activity on the land.”

McDiarmid said Casperson’s bill tries to fight “established fact” and basic environmental science.

Referencing the last amendment, there is a legislative finding in the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act that states, “Most losses of biological diversity are unintended consequences of human activity.”

That finding would be eliminated from the act under Casperson’s legislation, which McDiarmid said is like “flipping the bird to science.”

McDiarmid said environmental protections like the Michigan Endangered Species Act could eventually be undermined if the legislation passes because vital habitats couldn’t be easily protected.

The topic was discussed today at a Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council Land Use lunch today.