If a handful of Michigan Senators have their way, biological diversity will become a thing a distant memory (for the second time in our state’s history), and corporate interests would be the new driving force behind the Department of Natural Resources.
Visit any museum in Michigan and you’re bound to run across one of those shocking photos from the late 19th century where the land was logged barren — stark fields and hills with not a single tree. While we are not at risk of that happening again, the state is teetering towards a similar eco-disaster. Logging nearly wiped-out biodiversity in the state, with many species lost altogether and others just recently making a come back. The problem was one of monoculture — the trees that replaced the forests lacked species diversity and were an unsuitable habitat for the once abundant wildlife.
Sen. Tom Casperson has introduced a bill (SB 78) to revise the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994. The proposed amendments would prohibit the state from engaging in activities that preserve biodiversity and would require the Department of Natural Resources to focus on economic growth in its forest management practices. They would not be allowed to fund or participate in activities that promote restoration or identify unique habitats. The bill actually revises the definition of “conservation” to exclude the promotion of native species and habitats. As if that’s not enough, the proposed law deletes legislative language that attributes loss of biodiversity to human activity — meaning, they could not even converse in the language of the science behind biodiversity.
The DNR has been researching and developing programs since 2006, chief among them is their Living Legacies Initiative. This program identifies unique species and habitats and offers support through specific Biodiversity Stewardship Areas. Their website describes the program such:
“Living Legacies is built on sound scientific principles, while respecting the diverse ecological, social and economic values and perspectives that are important to Michigan citizens. Through Living Legacies, Michigan will write another chapter in its long history of thoughtful, forward-thinking stewardship of our state’s natural resources.”
“Biological diversity is a fundamental part of a mission that lies at the foundation of Michigan’s long tradition of strong and responsible public land management. Managing lands for biodiversity and ecosystem health and genetic resilience ensures that our forests can survive new invasive species, such as emerald ash borer, and our fisheries can withstand diseases…Biodiversity, as a management tool for enhancing and restoring Michigan’s native natural ecosystems, is entirely in keeping with the idea of the Michigan’s agencies are stewards of the public trust, and the caretakers of Michigan’s abundant natural beauty and healthy ecosystems.”
Speaking of legacies, Senator Casperson has a checkered enviromental history as a lawmaker, earning a flunking grade of just 30 percent from the non-partisan Michigan League of Conservation Voters. Casperson runs with a bad pack — his co-sponsors on this law also earned very poor grades on the MLCV scorecard (Colbeck 32%, Meekhof 25%, Walker 39%, Green 33%, Booher 23%, and bringing-up the rear, Robertson with 21%).
Casperson’s most recent campaign finance report predictably reflected his voting record with thousands in contributions from logging, mining, petroleum and energy interests — too numerous to list. Here, it seems the lawmaker enjoys a little diversity.
If Senate Republicans have their way, piping plovers, brook trout, river otters and thousands of other species may become taxidermy material for Michigan’s history museums.
The bill is currently being considered in the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project