ESCANABA - The year 1989 doesn't seem too long ago for those of us that were young adults back then; however, it was nearly a quarter century ago.
Back then, U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc., was only a year old and members were about to embark on a history making project - their "Deer Trap-Tag-Release Migration Study." It would serve to be the highest return on data ever found in Michigan deer travel research.
Twenty years later, it would be added as evidence on court proceedings as the 1836 Inland Lakes Treaty was settled and re-wrote how the Native American Tribes involved in the negotiations would look at that form of wildlife conservation.
Back then, there was also a lot of open spaces in rural Michigan.
Census studies have shown that cities have since shrunk and rural (township) living has expanded. That movement in 1989 was cause for the legislature to show keen insight in passing the original version of the Sport Shooting Ranges Act (SSRA) for the purpose of protecting them as rural expansion continued.
The purpose of the SSRA was to provide shooting ranges and give those involved with them, immunity from liability and lawsuits brought by local governments or neighbors, based on noise pollution or nuisance. Other amendments were added in 1994 that barred local governments from creating restrictive ordinances (regulations) that would have prevented expansion of existing ranges if they were compliant with "generally accepted operation practices."
Tim Kobasic is 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 Saturday mornings.
Thanks in part to those rules and the initiative of local clubs and individuals, the shooting sports have seemingly come alive with new interest, especially those involving youth. Many feel it to be an integral part of the future.
Last year, an individual who has recreational property in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, decided he no longer wanted to hear the sound of gunfire from nearby hunters. He filed a lawsuit that was later determined to be unfounded and thus dismissed by the courts.
This year, another entity from Lower Michigan has challenged the SSRA and filed a lawsuit that has ended up in a judgment by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
The case, (Oakland County) Addison Township vs. Jerry Kline Barnhart, sites that the SSRA only applies to sport shooting ranges that operate without intent to use the range for business or commercial purposes.
One would think some commerce activity at any organized range would be an accepted practice.
Most are used by not-for-profit groups to hold fund raising shoots. Many have modern facilities that include the ability to hold dinners and provide refreshments to patrons. It is not the primary focus; various modes of sport shooting are.
The other spin-off activities are mostly for fellowship gatherings in a shooting club atmosphere. The intermittent activities that produce revenue are to help fund structural maintenance and facility expansion. Structured activities within what are mostly classified as fraternal organizations, should not be considered in the same line as a business. Moreover, state licensure and regulatory requirements force any such enterprise to operate with some business accountability.
The redefinition of sporting ranges by the Michigan Court of Appeals will now be decided by the Michigan Supreme Court.
According to Kent Wood, the legislative affairs manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), "Under the current reading of the Court of Appeals holding, a vast majority of sport shooting ranges throughout the state would be stripped of the SSRA protection because they charge for membership fees, shooting lessons and other instructional courses and the sale of ammunition and equipment. Most clubs offer these services for a charge, not only to keep the operation running, but also to invest in new or improved facilities for the club and range."
MUCC has filed for Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court Status) on behalf of the defendant to assist in overturning the policy decision made by the lower court.
"If the decision by the Court of Appeal in this case stands, it will serve to remove the very purpose of the statute, and gut the protection it rightly affords to existing shooting ranges. The intent of SSRA was clear in its policy to protect ranges from urban sprawl, and made no mention of whether a range would be exempted from its protections merely because it participated in commercial exercises.", again according to Kent Wood.
In representing all affiliate and non-affiliate shooting range clubs, MUCC will contend that the language in the SSRA "certainly implies that sport shooting ranges are allowed to conduct commercial operations and still fall under its protections."
According to MUCC, "Within the 'definitions' section of the statute, the language considers all 'persons' to be protected by the act to mean 'an individual, proprietorship, partnership, corporation, club, etc...
All infer acceptability of a profit seeking entity to be included under the protections of the SSRA.
This issue has the potential to negatively impact the shooting sports in Michigan with the same gravity Proposal "D" would have made in 1996 had it not been defeated by the sporting public of Michigan.
The Michigan United Conservation Clubs have taken the initiative and have the resources to represent all concerned in seeking to overturn the Court of Appeals decision. All citizens and conservation organizations need to get behind them in this effort so that our sport shooting heritage can be continued.
More detailed information and updates can be accessed via the internet at: www.mucc.org and by opening the "Hot Button" heading.