ESCANABA - Today is a history making day for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A conservation easement, often referred to as a land trust, covering almost a quarter million acres of land, has been completed and signed off as the Northern Great Lakes Forest Project.
A ceremonial deed was signed by MDNRE Director Rebecca Humphries, signifying the completion of this historic agreement.
This is a very important event for those who utilize public lands for recreation as the NGLFP will preserve lands previously held in ownership within the timber industry and known as the Kamehameha Lands, keeping them from development and open for public recreational use in perpetuity.
It comes at a time when many commercial forest lands are being sold off as parcels, many being converted from Commercial Forest Act property to private property, no longer allowing public access for recreation that includes hunting and fishing.
Some parcels are retaining CFA status but some new owners are taking advantage of restrictions within the law, allowing them to charge for certain privileges that include the use of ATVs, even on established service roads. Called "gate leases," users are charged for what used to be a privilege.
Some years ago the timber producers entered into a memorandum of understanding, placing their land under the same rules and regulations established by the MDNRE for public land. In the UP, state forest roads are open to ATV use unless posted closed. Many continue to take advantage of the available CFA roads not restricted by the owners.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.
The NGLFP stretches across the UP from Gogebic County in the west to Chippewa County in the east. The easement was obtained in six phases over nearly eight years, supported by $16.1 million in funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (revenue from the sales of non-renewable natural resources in Michigan), and $9.45 million from the USFS Forest Legacy Fund. Both sources of money are specifically set aside for just such a purpose.
What is not clear is how much motorized access will be included within the NGLFP. As of now, it ensures public access for hunting, fishing, hiking cross country skiing and other non-motorized uses, with snowmobiling allowed in designated access corridors. All lands within the project area will also be managed under sustainable forestry practice standards.
ATV use, including current designated trails and routes within the project area, will remain in effect.
Land Trusts (easements) of this type are not new. In fact there are organizations that establish just such projects. One of my favorites, the Little Traverse Conservancy in northern Lower Michigan, keys their focus for broad use on these easements.
The LTC is the preferred agency of the UP Wildlife Habitat Work Group in establishing new wildlife habitat conservancies, if and when the are tied in with UP Whitetails Association for projects. LTC Executive Director Tom Bailey, a native Yooper, was raised as a conservationist under the tutelage of his father, who was a wildlife biologist, and like his son, worked for the MDNRE.
It is his belief in fundamental and contemporary management practices that sold us on his philosophies.
There are several other conservancy agencies in the UP, including the Nature Conservancy which has partnered in on the NGLFP, and the Central Lake Superior Land Conservancy, both of which are credible yet a little more conservative than Little Traverse.
There is one dark cloud out there, professing itself to be of similar nature as a land trust agency, but clearly pushing a specific anti-recreational agenda which is ultimately potentially devastating to both the forest and wildlife resources contained within land trusts.
The Humane Society of the United States, as misnomer title, has a separately incorporated "charitable" organization, the HSUS Wildlife Land Trust. Like the other credible conservancies, they project to restrict development and help land owners eligible for income and property tax savings as part of their options list.
However, they clearly proclaim their goals to prohibit recreational hunting and trapping. They employ their usual emotional ploy of evoking their principals of kindness, justice, compassion and respect for life.
With so much emphasis on the future of natural sustainability of both wildlife and habitat throughout Michigan, and the fact tourism will continue to emerge as a top industry in the state, you'd think it an automatic that anyone participating would be credible and work similarly towards goals.
Not so when HSUS gets involved.
Thank goodness the NGLFP/Kamehameha reached conclusion meeting the goals set years ago by all involved. It is like having an insurance policy that promises a pay-off for those who live for generations and love the great outdoors as part of their quality of life.
Along with the MDNRE, the USFS and The Nature Conservancy, additional partners in the NGLFP / Kamehameha Lands Project include several Michigan-based foundations and the Forestland Group, LLC.
I hope those of us who participate in conservation today will use this event as an example of how our outdoors heritage has been carved in history by a great bunch of people and in similar fashion like that of our forefathers, Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, and continue to educate youth towards the future.