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E-M:/ Question about State-Owned Land



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Enviro-Mich message from "Tom & Anne Woiwode" <woiwode@voyager.net>
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I certainly cannot speak with authority nor with the endorsement or approval
of the DNR on this matter; I can only offer my observations of the agency's
practices from my past experiences with TNC.  So recognize this as an
observation and not a statement of policy.

It's my understanding that the DNR sells property for 2 reasons.  The first
is from a pool of lands that end up in the agency's hands through property
tax delinquency.  Every year around the first of May the counties identify
the lands for which property tax payments are in default; they then send
those property descriptions to an agency of Treasury, which sells the taxes
to interested parties.  If the taxes haven't been sold for 3 years, the
property reverts to the state.  A huge amount of property moves through the
system annually (the tax roll books are monsters!), and because of the
complexity of carrying the process through to completion by a private party
(it took me 6 years to complete a tax purchase that is now part of the
Mackinac Wilderness Area), quite a few of the parcels that are not redeemed
by the owners end up with the state.  Once the property reverts to the
state, the state publishes a book identifying the available tracts by
county, and anyone can purchase the lands listed in the book.

The other process for selling property is through the DNR's declaration that
the property is "surplus"--typically meaning it isn't adjacent to any
existing management unit and may have come to the DNR by tax reversion many
years ago.

In addition to property sales, the DNR exchanges land.  The land exchange
system is used to "trade up", in that the agency tries to secure land of
greater ecological (read: wildlife management) value for land that is of
either limited natural value or is again a stand-alone unit.  The exchanges
are done on a value-for-value basis--that is, acreage may be different, but
the monetary value of the land has to accrue beneficially to the DNR.  The
DNR might, for example, accept 100 acres of property with big lake shoreline
with an appraised value of $500,000, and trade away 200 acres of woods and
upland with an appraised value of $300,000; thus, the monetary advantage
accrues to the state.

In all instances (sales or exchanges), the property offered and the property
requested are supposed to be reviewed by field staff to determine ecological
value as well as any other issues or opportunities of concern or interest.

While I'm not familiar with the parcels cited by Tim in his comments about a
shooting range and tower, it's possible that those parcels were not sold,
but still remain part of the DNR portfolio.  A few years ago the agency was
asked to identify sites around the state for the possible installation of
cellular towers; and the department has had as a priority for quite a few
years the construction of shooting ranges to increase the availability and
distribution of shooting sports around the state.  It's conceivable that the
property remains DNR land, but has been used for some other purpose (I
encourage anyone interested in those tracts to actually check into the
situation).

No matter whether the property is state-owned or not, though, the fact that
the DNR does not have a forest management plan to guide these
decisions--including how the tax reverted lands fit into their portfolio, or
a priority list of acquisitions, by ecological type, region of the state,
natural value or any other measure--means these ad hoc decisions continue to
prevent the public from participating in the deliberation process, and
continue to fragment the landscape, to the detriment of its natural systems.

I just read in a Wisconsin paper the other day about a Wisconsin DNR
purchase of 25,000 acres of land from a forest company; and that the DNR
rued the fact that they didn't have enough ready cash to purchase the entire
160,000 acres that was made available to them!  The statement in the
newspaper from Governor Tommy Thompson recognized the state's obligation to
future generations to have a landscape as natural as has graced our
generation; and Thompson is a Republican.  It's too bad the Michigan DNR
doesn't have such foresight and vision.

Tom Woiwode
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Tom, Anne, Nate and Pete Woiwode
5088 Powell Road
Okemos, MI 48864

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