Building on regional conservation

ESCANABA — As I approach four decades of being involved with conservation, I have seen philosophical changes in natural resources management in both the end user sportsmen and women, as well as those given charge to manage what we have outdoors in both the public and private sectors.

Management is the control and movement in a positive direction of an operation to achieve short and long term goals. It is forever changing and has to rely on contemporary information to adjust needs as part of those goals. What may have worked yesterday is no longer applicable today. Historical experience does offer background regarding previous efforts and whether or not attempts at change were met. It helps to have long term contacts and allies whose endorsements help streamline the process.

Years ago, we were able to obtain the latest information on varying topics that would impact the long and short term goals of conservation, especially those related to laws and legislation. The cable television network system used to have a channel dedicated to sessions of the full Michigan House of Representatives and Senate. We were able to witness the evolution of a bill and determine our position based facts as they were presented. That option is no longer available and today one has to be in direct contact with a legislator or be part of an established conservation organization in order to appreciate how a piece of legislation may impact what we do outdoors. There are archive and live presentations of committee work, but are not as effective as action on the floor as it happens.

Additionally, there used to be a specific page on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) internet website page that highlighted all the pending legislation that impacted what we did outdoors. The MDNR would offer their read on the pros and cons of each bill, make clear their position in favor or opposition, or refer the reader to an appropriate department charged with the ultimate care of the bill if passed. It was intriguing to learn that there were dozens of pending bills every year that most would not know about until they were passed and ended up as a new or changed regulation when it came to the open of a recreational season.

When it came to the MDNR administration, it took a long time to achieve a level of transparency that enabled the common conservationist to gain first hand knowledge of what was going on. By the time an issue was made public, it was easy to assume that a preconceived plan was already decided. Public hearings held in various locals through the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) often times would become a sequel of camp stories and failed to influence direction from the local perspective.

It is almost impossible for people from the Upper Peninsula to travel each month to Lansing (or other Lower Peninsula site) and regularly attend an NRC meeting. The usual crowd seen and giving testimony before the NRC are either paid professionals who most often take the role of lobbyists, club sponsored individuals conveying the sentiments of their constituents or a nearby resident. If you have an opposing view there is no mechanism to immediately counter the other side.

There is some good news in that the NRC meetings are streamed on the Internet and those signed on can comment throughout the session. I can’t say if those comments are saved and/or presented to the members of the NRC as they mull through an agenda, but it gives a sense of involvement to those participating.

Last week the NRC met in regular session and two topics of discussion during the public comment period reminded me that we in the UP are still at a level of disadvantage. Individuals at the meeting gave their views regarding the recently released Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Recommendations Report from the CWD Work Group. The other hot item was whether or not the NRC should endorse conversion of the sandhill crane to that of a game species.

The CWD Working Group, an at large consortium of volunteers, presented an outline of potential directions for the NRC to act upon in defining and furthering control measures. The 19 page document contradicts itself in several areas, not so much as a conflict but as options that could go either way, yet there were comments based on single ideals that met the immediate wants of the person at the table to endorse adoption statewide. The reality here is that the report is only a starting point for discussion and the only way it will be successful is to break out the process by region so that all stakeholders will have every opportunity to be involved first hand.

The same approach to the consideration of the sandhill crane was presented to the NRC in suggesting it not take place statewide.

As expected, the Humane Society of the United States kept to their agenda against any and all hunting. There was testimony by a husband/wife couple who live in the southwestern L.P. He took the microphone and his wife yielded her time to him to gain the optimum exposure. His argument against conversion of cranes to game birds, a situation that would involve the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the same as waterfowl, is that he doesn’t see many birds in the three counties where he drives a truck for his employment and therefore there is no reason to do the conversion statewide.

If we are able to assess and recommend positions on issues, our best bet to keep transparency and a close working relationship in the decision making process, the unique characteristics of the four distinct regions of Michigan have to be used as a baseline when considering statewide changes that include special adaptations..

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.