Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

Unifying the voice of a generation in environmental solidarity

Protect MI Biodiversity

on February 25, 2013

Unsurprisingly, Michigan’s legislation is about to make yet another decision that will march our state backwards in terms of the environment and the economy. Tom Casperson, a republican member of Michigan’s State Senate from the Northern part of the state (district 38), has recently introduced and passed a bill through committee that will remove the DNR’s responsibility to protect biodiversity and redefine our concept of conservation. Presumably, Casperson’s intent is to limit the power of Michigan’s central government and open up more land to economic development. Not only will this threaten many of the things we love about our state, but it could lead to more oil and gas development.

This blog hopes to give you the tools to take action on this issue with many other MI students to let Governor Snyder know that SB 78, the “anti-biodiversity bill” is not something that we stand behind, but is something that will directly impact and harm our futures.

Some of you may remember writing letters to Snyder or Casperson about this bill at the summit. Unfortunately, since then the bill is no longer something that has just been proposed, but is something that will be voted on in our Senate soon. Stephanie, a GVSU student, attended the recent committee hearing and this is what she had to say on the MSSC’s Facebook page:

“So yesterday was my first time speaking in front of the Michigan Senate; The Natural Resources Committee… 19 people (including myself) spoke out against senate bill 78, and one person was for the bill from the UP. After four hours of testimony from students, scientist, different organization, and concerned citizens the senate approved the bill so it will now go the senate floor.

The link below is a government summery of the bill; This would move Michigan backwards when Climate change is upon us and action needs to be taken now. It would also open the doors to industry (fracking; logging) because the DNR would now have to “balance its forest management activities with economic values.”

We need this bill to fail; So I am proposing that we bombard governor Snyder with emails, phone calls, and letters asking him to not pass the bill. He has responded to public input in the past and we need biodiversity protections now more than ever. I am asking students from different Universities around Michigan to join GVSU in raising awareness; set up letter writing tables, contact your biology department and profs. A healthy ecosystem depends upon biodiversity… this bill is a travesty.

I would also like to let everyone know that Senator Hood was the only person to vote against this bill and he deserves some thank yous. I thanked him for actually listening to the people. ”

Thanks to Stephanie for attending and representing the student voice, and also for calling us to action! We have a lot of momentum after the summit and our trip to DC, so let’s use it and exercise our network to come together around this one, straight-forward task.

Step 1: Get in touch with Governor Snyder and tell him that you, as the future generation of this state, do not support Senate Bill 78 for all of the various reasons why it is so horrible. Click here to get his contact information and click here to send him an email. 

  1. Tom Casperson is clearly just a big government fearing conservative who believes that lowering our standards to help rich corporations get richer is the way to run our society. Check out the League of Conservation Voter’s legislative score card and take a look at the recent bills Casperson voted on….no stricter than federal regulations, weakening our natural resources extraction ordinances, remove shoreline protections, etc. While not everything he has done is bad, I do think that a 33% overall score would mean he fails and it’s pretty clear that this bill is just another one like the string of those before them aimed at dismantling MI’s environmental protections.
  2. It doesn’t seem like the DNR really wants this legislation to pass. So far they haven’t come out with any statement that really advocates for it. I also found a few pages on their site that might tell us how they really feel (because biodiversity was allocated to them for a reason in the first place!): This page justifies their “living legacies” program that is specifically geared towards biodiversity, and the one that Casperson wants to cut specifically, and this page is a nice description about why biodiversity is so important in MI (in which they call biodiversity the “spice of life”!). Clearly science has been done around biodiversity and the DNR protects it for a reason, a reason that should not be pushed aside for the sake of ideology and corporate convenience.
  3. I’ve heard that Michigan has the second highest amount of biodiversity in North America, just behind California. In this case, protecting biodiversity will be beneficial for Michigan because biodiversity is what allows us to produce so much food and materials for others to use. While large scale farming is not a best practice for maintaining biodiversity, we cannot take economic advantage of the biodiversity of our state without acknowledging the importance of this biodiversity and caring for it in critical areas.
  4. OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT, LIKE FRACKING. If the government isn’t protecting these lands anymore, they may sell them to oil and gas companies (like they did with 195,000 acres of land in November). This is particularly scary at this moment why hydraulic fracturing is becoming a more regular practice, directly threatening our drinking water and public health.

Step 2: Get more students on your campus to write letters and make phonecalls! This effort will only make an impact if we can engage the grassroots. Hold a tabling event at a high-traffic area on campus, ask to speak in front of your class, or just get all of your friends to make the phone call. Use the points listed above or below from MEC to come up with sample letter or email templates, or create talking points for people to use. The letter only needs to be 2-3 paragraphs in length, and make sure you include your address so that he takes you seriously as an MI citizen. Anything you can do to get more people on board with add momentum to this effort!

Here is an email I sent to Senator Casperson about the bill you can use as a reference:

Dear Senator Casperson,

I am very concerned about SB 78, a bill you are currently sponsoring to limit the DNR’s ability to protect biodiversity within our state. Biodiversity is, in fact, very important to Michigan’s economy. Michigan has the 2nd highest amount of biodiversity in our country, meaning that we are one of the state’s with the highest capacity to produce a broad variety of agriculture and materials. Perhaps more important, however, is the biodiversity of our natural areas. As a native of Michigan’s west coast, I know firsthand the beauty of our natural areas, but also the amount of business that these areas can bring to small towns in those areas. De-regulating biodiversity will directly affect Michigan’s economy and the ability of our citizens to thrive within in.
Even if you only intend to impact the DNR’s “Living Legacies” program, the changes you propose will impact the DNR broadly because of the definition changes included. We cannot redefine “conservation” or “biodiversity” without significantly impacting how our DNR cares for our forests and lands.
Please, consider the implications of what you are proposing and their benefit to our state. I urge you to stop this bill and do what is right for Michigan.
Elizabeth Starke
Ypsilanti, MI

Here is a little more specific language from the Michigan Environmental Council on what the bill actually says and why it’s bad for MI. Its great and very thorough, and they also have a really useful  blog post linked to it at the bottom:

What is SB 78? Confusion With DNR Biodiversity Stewardship Areas (BSA) Program

At the recent committee hearing and in the media, the lead sponsor and author of SB 78, Sen. Tom Casperson, has repeatedly claimed that the intent of his legislation is to stop implementation of a very specific program — the Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) proposed “Living Legacies” (often referred to as the Biodiversity Stewardship Area, or “BSA”) program.

While this may the sponsor’s intent, we as advocates and concerned citizens must deal with the actual bill language that has been introduced. 

The bill being voted on would completely redefine “conservation,” the concept of “biodiversity,” and restrict or remove the ability of the DNR to even consider “biodiversity” or “restoration” when managing state forests. It is not NOT SPECIFIC to the DNR’s BSA/Living Legacies program, but a set of sweeping changes to the scientific principles that guide all state land management. Specifically, it amends Part 355 (Biological Diversity Conservation) and Part 525 (Sustainable Forestry on State Forestlands) of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act 451 of 1994 to do the following:

  • Revise the definition of “conservation” with regard to biological diversity, removing key provisions regarding restoration, distribution and the “continued existence” of native species and communities.
  • Prohibit the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Commission from promulgating or enforcing a rule or an order that designates or classifies an area of land specifically for the purpose of achieving or maintaining biological diversity, and provide that no other state agency would be required to do so either (the only portion specifically targeting the proposed BSA program).
  • Delete the conservation of biological diversity from the DNR’s duties regarding forest management, and require the Department to balance its management activities with economic values.
  • Eliminate a requirement that the DNR manage forests in a manner that promotes restoration.
  • Delete a legislative finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.
  • Repeal several sections that articulate the purpose of the original law, specifically deleting references to the Joint Legislative Working Committee on Biological Diversity (dissolved on December 30, 1995).

In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, MEC analysis suggests the legislation may also endanger other core DNR programs, including our forest certification efforts, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets. Places such as Hartwick Pines, Haven Hill and others are managed and designated at least in part based on biodiversity values, but are also popular places for wildlife viewing and as places to experience Michigan’s history and cultural icons.

Please see our blog at http://www.michigandistilled.org/ to read MEC’s full commentary on these bills.

Please let me know there is any support I can offer with this effort! Email me at starkeel@gmail.com


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