The announcement of a counter-proposal to the National Guard’s request for leasing an additional 162,000 acres has left some with more questions than answers.
On April 21, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National Guard. A week later, the DNR announced that it rejected the 162,000-acre lease the Guard had initially requested.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs was the first organization to oppose the expansion request and released this last week (click here). In the release last week, executive director Amy Trotter said the announcement that the National Guard could utilize up to 52,000 new acres of land still has MUCC on guard.
“The memorandum of understanding falls more in line with traditional land-use practices by entities other than the government,” Trotter said. “We expect transparency and the protection of our natural resources to preface any and all conversations surrounding the militarization of our public lands.”
Once the land use permit request is filed for specific parcels of lands and dates, the National Guard may be required to complete an environmental impact statement per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The costs of that statement are the responsibility of the entity applying for that permit.
Environmental impact studies under the authority of NEPA generally require some form of public comment, usually this is between 30-45 days.
But what does the MOU really mean? And are they going to be on all 52,000 acres?
The MOU lays out two main objectives agreed to between the parties: to establish the sideboards for state land use permits by the National Guard on tax-reverted lands (more on this later) and to provide for the protection of and access to Michigan’s public land and natural resources.
According to the MOU (click here to read in its entirety):
- Land use permits submitted by the National Guard will require a specific time and place;
- Up to 52,000 acres of tax-reverted public land will be available for request. The MOU reads, “The land use permit applications will be limited to the amount of acreage needed for the proposed military training exercise;”
- All lands WILL REMAIN OPEN to public use at all times;
- No training will be permitted to occur within 3,000 feet of an inland lake or designated trout stream;
- The National Guard will leave the land as good or better than they found it;
- The Guard will continue to issue public service announcements.
According to the MOU, the purpose of the land use permits is:
- Small formation activity involving less than 500 National Guard members and up to 100 affiliated partner members;
- Controlled trials of cyber and electronic warfare technologies;
- Low-impact or light maneuver training.
The following activities WILL NOT be permitted:
- Live fire or any similar kinetic activity;
- Use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam material or any similar or other material known to contain harmful pollutants, including PFAS;
- Activity within 3,000 feet of any inland lakes or designated trout streams listed in Fisheries Order 210.23;
- Use of tanks;
- Erection of fencing or any permanent structure;
- Violent, loud, or disorderly conduct;
- Activity that results in significant damage to vegetation;
- Storage of watercraft or other vehicles beyond designated permitted period;
- Use of any loudspeaker, PA system, or similar equipment.
‘We expect transparency and the protection of our natural resources to preface any and all conversations surrounding the militarization of our public lands’
While 52,000 acres of land and 365 days of the year may be available, Trotter said it’s important to note that approval of a single land use permit of that magnitude is unprecedented. The land use permit application is almost certain to be more specific to targeted times of the year and specific areas of land.
She said MUCC’s opposition from the beginning has been founded in three areas: wildlife, habitat and access.
“This MOU ensures that any land use permit application from the National Guard will be subject to important terms: public access will remain open and damage to habitat will be mitigated. We will hold accountable our DNR that any new training techniques or technologies will not negatively impact wildlife — that is our job and duty to our members.”
The lands selected as available for land use permits by the National Guard are tax-reverted. Lands purchased using fish and game dollars or Pittman-Robertson dollars will not be considered for land use permits, according to the MOU.