Who Owns The Fish? We Do.

I have never owned private land. And I’m not sure that I ever will.

But I do own millions of acres of property and huge populations of game and fish. You own it too.

I’m talking about the system of public lands that make this state and this nation so unique. And I’m talking about the North American Conservation Model.

In a nutshell, the North American Conservation Model is a very simple system that places the responsibilities of conservation upon the shoulders of all the people. It has been a spectacular success because it also places ownership of the nation’s fish and game populations in the hands of all citizens.

In other words, the fish and wildlife belong to all  of us. Therefore, it is up to all of us to take care of them.

But it seems that folks have started to forget that we live in these United States and not Europe.

Attacks on public land ownership and the North American Conservation Model seem to be coming fast and furious of late. Worse yet, they come not just from landowners looking to keep the public out but from our own elected officials.

MUCC has been working for several months to fix a bill that would place a limit on the amount of public land that the state of Michigan can own. And while there needs to be a system in place for evaluating which lands the state should keep, which they should buy and which they should sell, the notion that owning public land is somehow a bad thing doesn’t make sense. That is not the will of the people and does not reflect the views of the public.

But it’s not just legislators looking to reduce public access. Private landowners have been at work as well.  A blog this week on OutdoorLife.com looked at a public access issue taking place on the Salmon Trout River. I won’t rehash all the details here but the Huron Mountain Club owns a huge chunk of land in the Upper Peninsula. The Salmon Trout  River, which hosts one of the last remaining runs of coaster brook trout on Lake Superior’s southern shore, runs through it. Public access to the river is available at a bridge on a county road. The Club bought the road and the bridge through an abandonment process and shut off the access. The issue went to court and was overturned. But the decision is under appeal.

The Club says it’s not interested in shutting off public access just for the sake of keeping the public off the river. They say they’re doing it to protect the coaster trout.

But is that how conservation should work? Should such management be left in the hands of private landowners? Or do those fish — and thus their management — fall in the realm of public ownership?

Another issue: Construction is soon to begin on improvements to the public boat access on Lake Fenton in southeast Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources intends to renovate the parking area to increase parking for vehicles with boat trailers from 35 to 57 spaces.

Those plans have the Lake Fenton Property Owners Association up in arms, claiming that the lake is already overcrowded and the public access site should not be improved.

State regulations allow for one boat/trailer parking site for every 15 acres of lake available. The Lake Fenton access could allow up to 144 sites. Which, of course, is double the proposed number of sites at the public launch and more than 100 sites than are currently available.

So with only 35 existing sites available, where are all the boats coming from? They’re coming from the privately-owned docks and canals that surround the lake.

So  what the Property Owners Association is really saying is this: We own the land around the lake and do not want the public to access “our” lake.

It’s times like this that make me understand the need for organizations like Michigan United Conservation Clubs. And it makes me feel like the work we do is important.

MUCC stands against attacks on public access to the resources we all own.

And from the sounds of it, we’re going to have a lot of standing up to do. If  you care about public access, stand with us. We’re going to need you.

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