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GLIN==> Time to Act on South Fox Island Proposal

Posted on behalf of Karen Vigmostad <vigmo@msu.edu>

For those of you interested in issues affecting the islands of the 
Great Lakes, below is an article describing a proposed island land 
transfer.  The islands of the Great Lakes form the largest collection 
of freshwater islands in the world.  They include some of the last 
remaining wildlands on Earth and are globally significant in terms of 
their biological diversity.

Some of the land on one of Michigan's most prominent islands is up for 
consideration of transfer of ownership from public to private 
ownership.  The island contains critical habitat for endangered and 
threatened species and is listed by Dr. Soule as one of a handful of 
islands that lack protection and inventory work and are of highest 
priority.  Dr. Soule also lists South Fox as one of the top ten 
priority Michigan Great Lakes islands that needs protective 
designation.  Islands are uniquely vulnerable to human and natural 
forces of change. Research by the International Conservation for 
Nature on island development in the Caribbean has shown the problems 
associated with building airstrips and marinas in terms of greatly 
increasing the rate of development and changing the very character of 
the island for all time.  As one of my mentors, Dr. Orin Gelderloos, 
said, "A sidewalk is forever."

The article below gives information on how you can make comments if 
you are concerned about this issue.  The issue does not so much 
revolve around the issue of private ownership because private 
ownership is not necessarily bad.  Indeed many excellent island 
examples such as in the St. Lawrence River are privately owned 
(although the islands undoubtedly lack legally binding protection and 
are thus vulnerable if the next landowner does not conserve the 
natural features).  The issue really is that without a larger Great 
Lakes island conservation framework and strategy in place, the 
decisions being considered today are being made "blind". 
Furthermore, requirements under the Endangered Species Act differ for 
private owners and are in effect weaker.  A rational decisions-making 
process about island futures would of necessity be based within a 
Great Lakes ecoregional planning framework that has been developed by 
the Nature Conservancy and is being discussed and tried in various 
federal, state, local, and private organizations and communities.   A 
moratorium on decisions regarding the land transfer of islands until 
such time as an island conservation strategy is in place seems like a 
reasonable course to take.  Your comments and feedback are welcome as 
our office works to help put that framework in place for the islands 
of the Great Lakes.

Karen Vigmostad, Director
U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Islands Project
Michigan State University

Opponents of South Fox land swap plan plea to federal agencies

Associated Press Newswires

CHARLEVOIX, Mich.  (AP)  - Opponents of a proposal to consolidate 
private land on South Fox Island say they will ask federal 
authorities to scrutinize the deal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service must 
sign off on the proposed deal between the Department of Natural 
Resources and private landowner David Johnson. The land includes 
critical habitat to endangered species and parcels given to the state 
from federal programs.

The proposed land swap would consolidate the state's land, now 
scattered across South Fox Island, to the northern third of the 
3,434-acre island. Johnson then would own the southern two-thirds.

The state would lose about 100 acres in the exchange, although it 
would gain more water access.  Johnson wants to build a home on the 
island, improve its airstrip and use it as a private retreat.

The state has cited several advantages in Johnson's proposal: Making 
management of the public-private boundary easier; providing access to 
a now landlocked 160-acre parcel; and preserving the lighthouse at 
the southern tip of the island, which the DNR says it cannot maintain.

Opponents, including the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa 
Indians and a hunting group, object to the net loss of public land, 
the privatization of the lighthouse and the loss of a boat-landing 

Johnson's goal is to have South Fox as a sanctuary, and the 
consolidation is vital to that, he said.

If Johnson owns the best beach landing area and consolidates the rest 
of his land, he could develop a marina, condominiums and a golf 
course on South Fox, opponents have said.

Johnson is the developer of the Bay Harbor complex west of Petoskey, 
but he has said he has no such plans for South Fox.

"I think a lot of people have worked for a long time to do what's 
right for the state of Michigan, including me," Johnson told the 
Traverse City Record-Eagle for a story Wednesday. "I think it's an 
incredible opportunity to consolidate and give definition to a 
problem that's existed for many years."

The Fish and Wildlife Service will hold meetings in Charlevoix to 
gather public comment. The state Natural Resources Commission also 
will discuss the transaction at its monthly meeting in Holland on 

That's when the commission is scheduled to make a recommendation on 
whether the land swap should continue.  DNR director K.L.  Cool will 
use the commission's recommendation to make his own decision.

An internal Fish and Wildlife Service memo estimated it would take at 
least until November 2001 to decide whether to approve the deal.  The 
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians has proposed that 
it take over that land to ensure public access to the lighthouse and 
refuge for tribal fishers.

Since other tribal links to the island, such as burial grounds and 
potential land claims are now unknown, tribal officials believe any 
transaction should be carefully evaluated.

"This is a permanent move we're talking about," attorney Brian Upton said.

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