"There is the risk that once you start the
process politicians may dictate what the
next parcel may be and they already
have someone ready to buy it."
~ Don Inman, former deputy director
of the Dept. of Natural Resources
This map shows the areas of the Pere Marquette State Forest in
northwest Michigan. The Department of Natural Resources is
preparing to auction 2,800 acres of the forest in seven counties.
The action could establish a precedent to sharply accelerate the
transfer of public land to private interests.
In an important change in how the state manages public lands, the Department of Natural Resources is
preparing to auction up to 2,800 acres of the Pere Marquette State Forest. The action could establish a precedent
to sharply accelerate the transfer of public land in Michigan to private interests.
On the list are more than 70 parcels spanning Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Lake, Missaukee, Osceola,
and Wexford counties. They range in size from two acres to 160 acres; 40 parcels are 40 acres or larger. The first
five parcels, a total of about 280 acres in Kalkaska County, could be auctioned as soon as this October. Once all
of the parcels have been sold the DNR will determine whether to extend the program elsewhere in the state.
The auctions come as large tracts of land in northern Michigan are at a premium, with the state in recent
years fielding numerous requests to buy land for new development, such as a race track in Kalkaska and a golf
course in Crawford County.
Senator Says the State Owns Too Much Land
The auction of the Pere Marquette land was spurred by the findings of a 1996 special Senate Committee
on Public Lands Management headed by Sen. George McManus, (R-Traverse City). Sen. McManus, who
often has stated his belief that the "state has too much public land," holds an influential post as chairman of
the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Natural Resources and Environmental Quality, which oversees the
DNR and DEQ budgets.
When he released the committee report, Sen. McManus described the practice of acquiring public lands as
"a little like creeping socialism." Such comments make conservationists wonder whether the Senator and his
political allies have a strong commitment to preserving the integrity of Michigan's public lands.
"As with everything, there is some merit to the positions they are espousing," said Chris Bunch, former
regional vice president for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. "But it needs to be watched carefully. Sen.
McManus says 'no net gain' and I say 'no net loss, and no net sprawl.'"
Officials in the Department of Natural Resources said the state is disposing of lands that are difficult to
manage because they are on the fringes of the forest or are surrounded by private land.
K.L. Cool, director of the DNR, said money raised from the auctions will go into the Land Exchange
Facilitation Fund that can only be used to buy additional state land, such as parcels that are ecologically
valuable or private holdings that are surrounded by state land. He added that although for decades the state
mostly has traded parcels in acquiring private land, the DNR has long had the legal authority to auction lands
if it chooses. "It's just good business management," he said.
Plan Occurred Without Public Comment
Conservationists, however, say the plan to auction so many parcels at a time is a substantive policy change
made without inviting public comment. They point out that the upcoming auctions, with more likely to follow,
could increase haphazard development in northern Michigan and make the DNR vulnerable to political
pressure from developers who want even more public lands.
"There is the risk that once you start the process politicians may dictate what the next parcel may be and
they already have someone ready to buy it," said Donald Inman, former DNR deputy director for the Lower
Peninsula. "It takes an informed, watchful public to make sure that does not happen. Conservationists are
encouraging the Engler Administration to:
•Establish a review system to make sure lands of at least equal value replace those that are sold, especially
when the money from the auctions may be used to purchase land outside northern Michigan.
•Review the parcels to see whether they can help meet a new Legislative mandate for timber cutting, sparing
other lands for wildlife and recreation.
•Review proposed sales with local governments to make sure they will not cause haphazard growth.
•Hold a series of public hearings around the state for each proposed auction. G
Diane Conners is a former environmental reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. CONTACTS: Mindy Koch, chief of the Real Estate Division, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 517-313-1246; Chris Bunch, executive director, Michigan Outdoors Habitat Brokerage, 616-933-5407; Keith Schneider at the Institute, 616-882-4723.