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E-M:/ Gladwin County citizens confront DNR on forest management

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org

Gladwin County citizens confront DNR on forest management

On Monday night, Oct. 5, between 70 and 90 people from Clement Township in
Gladwin County crammed into the Township Hall to meet with about 10 officials
from the DNR Forest Management Division and Wildlife Division.  The meeting,
hosted by Rep. Tom Alley, was prompted by residents' concerns about the
management activities on Au Sable State Forest lands  within their community.

Some of the concerns raised focused on the type of management, in particular
the emphasis on clearcutting which was the specific trigger for the outrage
and this meeting.  However, most of the criticisms had to do with a very
strong sense that the agency not doing what they had told citizens they would
do in managing these areas, in particular commitments to leave specific stands
or buffers uncut.

In addition, the residents decried the lack of clear policies for management
of the State Forests, which they feel leaves citizens without a clear handle
on what the agency is doing, and leaves far too much discretion to the on-the-
ground manager.  Likewise, concerns were raised about whether the agency is
enforcing the rules, assuring that timber that is not supposed to be cut
is not cut, and making sure that cutting was not occuring along waterways in
ways that cause erosion and non-point pollution of streams and rivers. In all
these cases it was stressed that these were not issues unique to this area,
but problems throughout the state and that the DNR needed to deal with these
issues statewide.

The stories told by the participants were in some cases heartwrenching. A
woman in her 70's who needs a golf cart to get around went out in her back
yard to check why a logging operation was doing something different than what
they expected from having participated in the DNR's review and timber sale
planning of DNR land adjacent to their property.  The logger threatened to
drop a tree on her after telling her to get away, even though she was on her
own property.  Others told of trees that had been marked as the edge of sales
being cut, although they were not to be cut.  Many complained about sales that
were larger than the agreed to plan, that they failed to leave the buffers
they had expected and thought DNR committed to, and of lands left trashed
after a cut.  Particularly distressing was that many of these people had gone
through a virtually identical meeting in 1994 where the DNR told them they
would address the concerns, and they were furious to have exactly the same
problems in place four years later.

The DNR officials, led by John Robertson, chief of Forest Management Division,
and including Wildlife Division staff, fielded the questions, and made some
commitments at the meeting.  Specifically, they promised to send notices of
all changes in management activities after Compartment Reviews to both the
Counties and Townships where these changes are proposed.  Evidently, a
complete list of all cuts proposed in the forests is produced once a year and
the agency staff seemed willing to provide that document. They also promised
to send notice of the final decisions made at Compartment Reviews to all those
who attend the open houses and reviews, and to then send notice of any
proposed changes in those decisions out to the same people so they know when
plans have changed.  Several times the staff emphasized that they would also
plan to meet with people to follow up on specific complaints.  Also, in this
particular area there is a Tittabawassee River Task Force which has spawned a
subcommittee on clearcutting issues.  The residents pressed for a commitment
of a DNR representative to be in close contact with that group.

Rep. Alley played the role of moderator, and also reinforced that the issues
being raised had been raised four years ago, and that he agreed with the
resident's interpretations of the commitments made.  He urged the locals to
decide whether they wished to focus on just the clearcutting issues, or
broader issues of State Forest management, since a narrower agenda may have a
better chance for success.

As an attendee, I was struck by the depth of knowledge, concern and commitment
of the people of Clement Township.  Their frustration was very high, and a
sense that they had been misled before made people very touchy about the whole
topic.  They are looking for the DNR to keep its word more than anything else.
In addition, the DNR staff, while not always agreeing with interpretations of
past events and commitments, expressed a commitment to trying to address the
concerns.  There are still many concerns, and the proof will come over the
next several years.  Communications was stressed as a major issue, and the
difference between what was being said and what was being heard will continue
to be a major issue in the way the agency interacts with the owners of the
forests, but certainly we hope this will be a step in the right direction.

If you would like to contact the residents of Clement Twp., call Carol Prosser
at 517-345-2733.

Anne Woiwode
Sierra Club

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