Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill Thursday that would have limited regulators' authority to designate sections of state land for the promotion of biological diversity, saying it would hamper sustainable forest management beneficial to the economy as well as environmental protection.
The Republican governor broke with lawmakers from his party who overwhelmingly supported the measure, which received final approval in December. It was backed by the timber industry, which contended that the Department of Natural Resources wanted to declare large sections of state land off-limits to logging. Environmentalists said it would prevent land management based on science.
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"Biodiversity is essential to how our world-class natural resources are managed," Snyder said. "While there are opportunities to look into our forest management practices, reducing biodiversity authority will only cause confusion and hurt our forests."
Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican and the bill's primary sponsor, said he was disappointed and would consult with fellow GOP lawmakers before deciding whether to try again.
"I believe people were misled into believing we were trying to block biodiversity. That's simply not true," Casperson said.
He introduced the bill in 2013, responding to a DNR program that sought to create a network of "biodiversity stewardship areas" within the 4.6 million acres of state-owned forestland. Managers would have given priority to conserving wide varieties of species and ecosystems in those locations while promoting the return of old-growth forests that were wiped out in the 1800s.
A plan that identified 678,000 acres in the northern Lower Peninsula as suitable for the purpose drew fire from opponents who said it would curtail timber harvesting, motorized recreation, mining and other uses. The DNR said the fears were exaggerated.
"Those kinds of major decisions should have oversight in the Legislature," Casperson said.
Economic value should be a high priority in forest management, Snyder acknowledged. But he said the bill could harm the forest products industry by causing Michigan to lose certification from organizations that rate forests for environmentally friendly treatment. As green building standards gain popularity, many lumber mills insist on buying wood from certified forests.
"Rather than letting anti-science fear steer our state policy, this veto ensures that our state's trained biologists, ecologists and foresters can continue to take a holistic approach to the management of our public lands and the diversity of plants, animals and natural resources they provide," said Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.
Scott Robbins, policy director for the Michigan Forest Products Council, said the bill was needed to prevent "unaccountable overregulation of land." More than 20 state and federal programs protect natural resources and biodiversity, he said.
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