The nation’s largest statewide conservation organization submitted its official comment regarding the proposed 162,000-acre expansion of Camp Grayling on Thursday.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) is a grassroots conservation organization whose 30,000-plus members and more than 200 affiliate clubs set the policy for the nonprofit. Since 1937, MUCC has protected the rights of hunters, anglers, trappers and shooters.
As the state’s premier conservation organization and public land and access proponent, MUCC’s comments drill down into the veil shrouding the proposed expansion. There are still too many unanswered questions with considering a proposal of this magnitude, said Justin Tomei, the organization’s policy lead.
“The National Guard has not provided any reason to warrant an expansion of this magnitude or why their current footprint is not adequate,” Tomei said. “The consideration of this proposal and possible expansion is not in the public’s best interest, does not align with the DNR’s mission and is bad news for conservationists and recreationists who utilize the public land in question.”
To learn more about the background of the proposed expansion and the process, click here to read a past MUCC blog. For the expansion to occur, a proposal taking upwards of one year would need to be initiated. This decision rests solely with DNR Director Dan Eichinger.
“The militarization of our public land is not something that MUCC takes lightly, and Michigan residents should not have to shoulder the burden for the country’s national security unless a valid and pertinent reason exists,” the organization’s public comment read.
One of MUCC’s main concerns is the resource drain a proposal of this magnitude will cause — with no promise of compensation or way to backfill current, ongoing duties of department staff. DNR Unit Manager Tom Barnes said, “The resources that would be required of my staff to undertake this proposal are still to be determined. We would likely need to contact neighboring units and ask their staff to also start looking into the review process.”
When asked if this work would be additive to current, ongoing work his staff is responsible for, Barnes noted that it likely would be.
Abraham Downer, an avid grouse hunter and angler and member of the MUCC Conservation Policy Board, attended the first public meeting on the matter and said the state or National Guard did not seem to be able to answer many of the questions posed to them squarely.
“I asked a question about what the expense, in terms of infrastructure, money, personnel, would cost to complete the review,” Downer said. “The panel did not answer and moved on, stating that they had already addressed those concerns in previous questions.”
A current “handshake deal,” according to unit manager Barnes, has guided much of the relationship between the National Guard base and the DNR, which is charged with managing the state’s public lands for the betterment of its citizens — not the military.
Regardless of the outcome of this proposal, MUCC feels that a new lease should be drafted to spell out explicit lease guidelines regarding land usage and how mitigation measures will be enforced if needed, Tomei said.
“This process has shed light on how much the base has taken advantage of the public land they are and are not allowed to use currently,” Tomei said. “We have seen military rafts with mounted machine guns on private property and spent shell casings littered throughout state land roads. And this is only since we have been looking for instances like these in the last two months.”
Tomei said that a new lease needs to include specific language allowing the citizens of Michigan and the DNR to take action against these abuses.