If the state Senate has its way, soon the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will no longer have carte blanche to buy all the land it wants as last month, the upper chamber passed a bill in a 24-14 vote to put a cap on the number of acres the DNR can own.
While preserving forest land and open space is a “great thing to do,” according to state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield), there also needs to be some limits on that power, especially when considering the revenue loss suffered by public schools and local governments when the state-owned land is taken off the property tax rolls, as well as the management difficulties the DNR has been experiencing with budget and personnel cutbacks.
“You have to figure out at some point in time how much is enough,” Kowall said.
The magic number in this case appears to be 4.65 million acres.
The DNR currently owns 4.47 million acres of land, according to its website, which Kowall said is more than “any other state in the region.”
“When you think about it, 4.6 million acres is a lot of land,” he said. “(Senate Bill 248) still provides the DNR with wiggle room, and in the event that something comes up, the DNR can come back to the Legislature and get permission to acquire more land. They’re not locked out forever. They just no longer have carte blanche to continue to buy whatever land they want.”
Senate Bill 248 proposes to do the following:
• Prohibit the DNR from acquiring surface rights if it owned, or as a result of an acquisition would own, the surface rights to more than 4.65 million acres of land;
• Require the DNR to post and maintain on its website the number of acres of land on which the DNR owns surface rights, in total and by program;
• Require the DNR to offer for sale at a public auction tax-reverted land that had not sold after nine months and sell the property to the qualified bidder making the highest bid that represented a reasonable price for the property as determined by the DNR, notwithstanding its fair market value;
• Delete a provision prohibiting the acceptance of a bid for surplus land for less than its fair market value;
• Require the DNR to estimate payments in lieu of taxes on the land and the change in property tax revenue to local governments before acquiring surface rights.
Land on which the DNR has a conservation easement and is land-platted under the Land Division Act before the bill’s effective date, if acquired by the DNR before that date, would be excluded from counting towards the acreage restriction.
The bill would also exclude the following from the number of acres the DNR owns if acquired on or after the bill takes effect:
• Land with an area of not more than 80 acres, or a right-of-way for gaining access to other land owned by the DNR;
• Land that was commercial forest land on the bill’s effective date;
• Land acquired by the DNR through gift or litigation; or
• A trail.
The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives for that chamber’s consideration.