Coalition challenges Michigan Senate panel opposition to protection for U.P. wilderness areas

By: - June 21, 2022 7:52 am

Fly fishing in the Sturgeon River in the Ehlco Area/North Country Trail | Keep the U.P. Wild photo

A collective of more than 350 groups are speaking against a Michigan Senate panel’s efforts to prevent four areas in the Ottawa National Forest from becoming national wilderness areas.

Keep the U.P. Wild, a coalition of environmental, religious, business, academic and community leaders, submitted its written opposition to Senate Resolution 150 on June 15. 

If the resolution, introduced by state Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, passes the Senate, the chamber would formally oppose federal efforts to protect four additional areas of the Upper Peninsula. A copy of the resolution would be sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the members of the Michigan congressional delegation.

These four areas, Ehlco, Trap Hills, Norwich Plains and an addition to the Sturgeon River Gorge, cover more than 50,000 acres. If approved by Congress, these areas would become a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, receiving the government’s highest level of protection. 

“The Upper Peninsula is truly blessed with a rare resource few other states have: wild lands,” Aaron Peterson, a member of Keep the U.P. Wild, said in a statement.

“We will only be able to maintain these lands if we make the effort to protect them. A wilderness designation is our best opportunity,” Peterson said.

McBroom’s resolution argues the management restrictions put in place through the federal designation would not improve the areas’ ecological health and would limit economic development and recreation opportunities. 

On its website, Keep the U.P. Wild notes wilderness designation brings in $9.4 billion a year in benefits nationally. Hunting and fishing related purchases in Michigan also bring in $11.2 billion a year in revenue, according to the coalition. 

“We will only be able to maintain these lands if we make the effort to protect them. A wilderness designation is our best opportunity,” Peterson said.

These areas are protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The law requires a recommendation from state or local land management agencies, governments, organized groups, or individual citizens before consideration and approval of a formal designation from Congress.

Wilderness areas are co-managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Each agency manages several individual areas varying in size and location. 

Once an area receives designation, activities on that land are limited to non-motorized recreation and scientific research. 

Michigan currently has 16 other national wilderness areas including 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.

McBroom’s resolution received supporting testimony from the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance and the Michigan Trails and Recreation Alliance of Land and the Environment, an organization working to develop a multi-use trail system in the western Upper Peninsula.

Each group echoed concerns raised in McBroom’s resolution, including restricting motor vehicle access, changes to forest management strategies and how federal restrictions could affect the timber and tourism industry in neighboring communities. 

In testimony submitted to the committee, Dave Johnson, president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance, said that banning motorized access in these areas would limit recreation to able-bodied young folks, preventing  senior citizens and people with disabilities from enjoying the area. 

Congress previously noted that the Wilderness Act does not prohibit the use of motorized wheelchairs or mobility aids in designated wilderness. 

The resolution passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee in a 4-1 vote, according to the Michigan environmental council, a member organization of Keep the U.P. Wild.

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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson was a reporting intern for the Michigan Advance. A recent MSU graduate, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He has reported on community events, breaking news, state policy, and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.