Michigan Senate reconsiders effort to protect U.P. wilderness ⋆

State Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.) and members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture on Tuesday discussed a resolution urging Congress to grant federal wilderness protections for four sites in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The resolution — Senate Concurrent Resolution 11 — would call on Congress to designate the Ehlco area, the Trap Hills, the Norwich Plains and a 2,000-acre addition to the Sturgeon River as federal wilderness areas. Under this designation, the land would receive the highest level of federal wildland protections for the use and enjoyment of American people in a manner that leaves them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment.

Michigan is currently home to 16 federal wilderness areas covering more than 291,300 acres, according to the resolution. 

What four new wilderness areas would mean for the U.P.

These areas include: Beaver Basin; Big Island Lake; Delirium Wilderness; Horseshoe Bay; Huron Islands; Isle Royale; Mackinac Wilderness; McCormick Wilderness; Michigan Islands; Nordhouse Dunes; Rock River Canyon; Round Island; Seney National Wildlife Refuge; Sleeping Bear Dunes; Sturgeon River Gorge and Sylvania Wilderness.

The proposed sites would cover an additional 51,000 acres.

When an area receives federal wilderness designation, activities on that land are limited to non-motorized recreation and scientific research. However this would not ban the use of motorized wheelchairs or mobility aids. 

Lawmakers previously debated efforts to preserve the four sites under federal protections. In 2022, Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) introduced a resolution opposing the effort to place the land under federal protection. 

McBroom testified against the effort again on Tuesday, saying it would bring little change to the current condition of the land, and arguing that placing the land under federal management would make the forest more susceptible to disease, wildfire and other disasters. 

“One has to ask themselves: What’s the necessity of changing things? We have the biodiversity, we have the beauty, we have the purity, we have the place for people to go who want to hike and do all of these outdoor recreation areas. Why the need to add this additional categorization,” McBroom said. 

“We are not a national park, and yet the people of the U.P. feel repeatedly under attack by people from all over the country and particularly from those below the bridge, who want to designate the U.P. as a national park or a park-like place, telling us what we can do with our land; where we can go; what we can build,” McBroom said. 

The main change that would come from this designation is a move from almost-never cutting forests to never cutting forests, McBroom said. 

“I don’t believe that that’s the best interest of Michigan. Certainly not the best interest of the forest and it’s not the best interest of being a good neighbor. Because if you don’t take care of your properties, well, then you endanger your neighbor’s property,” McBroom said. 

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) testifies before the Senate Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee on Oct. 17, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

“We’re asking the feds, who’re already doing a lousy job managing their property — federal forests — to do an even worse job managing them and endanger these other forests,” McBroom said. 

McBroom argued that potential fire and disease from a lack of federal management would reduce opportunities for the forest products industry throughout the area. 

However, Kelly Thayer, coordinator of Keep the U.P. Wild, a coalition of environmental, business, recreation, political, faith and veterans organizations, pushed back against McBroom’s management concerns.

“The Sleeping Bear Dunes has put out notice that they are managing the forest in the Platte River area, in that section, with controlled burns. They do selective cutting of trees to manage for disease and invasive species or else they’d lose more of the forest,” Thayer said.

“What [the designation] doesn’t allow is for the Ottawa National Forest to propose logging and to place bids out to companies to come in and do future logging. That’s different than management for disease for risk, for fire or for any other problems that could affect a neighboring parcel. The Forest Service can and will manage,” Thayer said.

Supporters of placing the land under federal protections also touted ecological and economic benefits the designation would bring, supporting biological diversity and native species as well as the recreation industry. 

“Overall outdoor recreation generates $26.6 billion in consumer spending in Michigan per year, and supports over 170,000 jobs in the state. Michigan also ranks first among the Great Lakes states for jobs created from hunting and fishing related purchases totaling another $11 billion,” Thayer said.

Horst Schmidt of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Council noted that preserving the forest would also provide carbon sequestration, capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Elise Rosky, a Houghton County resident who attends and performs research with Michigan Technological University addressed concerns young people are facing from a lack of opportunities for work, with many young adults leaving the peninsula for work or after graduating college. 

However young people do want to find roles in their community and many are investing in their locality to remain close to wilderness areas, Rosky said. 

Trap Hills | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Trap Hills | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Overlook from the Trap Hills within the Ottawa National Forest, Western U.P. | Laina G. Stebbins

Trap Hills within the Ottawa National Forest, Western U.P. | Laina G. Stebbins

Hacking site trail in the Trap Hills, Ottawa National Forest | Laina G. Stebbins

Cascade Falls within the Trap Hills, Ottawa National Forest | Laina G. Stebbins

Ehlco Area, North County Trail in the Ottawa National Forest | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Kelly Thayer, coordinator for Keep the U.P. wild testified at the Senate Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee meeting on Oct. 17, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Sturgeon River Falls | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Sturgeon River Gorge | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Norwich Plains, Ottawa National Forest | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Members of the Senate Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee at a meeting on Oct. 17, 2023. | Kyle Davidson

Norwich Plains | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Norwich Plains | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

Norwich Plains | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

 

“Young people here care deeply about the wilderness. … And we jump at any opportunity to ensure that these places are protected and cared for,” Rosky said.

As young people are bracing for the impacts of climate change, efforts taken to protect wilderness feel like a glimmer of hope that these spaces can be protected, Rosky said. 

“Protecting these wilderness areas is protecting the future of the communities up here. Not only because of recreation and tourism and attractiveness for people to live here, but also for the security of having clean water and a healthy ecosystem that will support biodiversity,” Rosky said.

The committee did not take votes on the resolution. 

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authored by Kyle Davidson
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F10%2F18%2Fmichigan-senate-reconsiders-effort-to-protect-u-p-wilderness%2F

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