DNR director touts successes

MARQUETTE – Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh said on a recent visit to Marquette County that his agency has made some significant gains over the past year.

“We got dredging done. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen. We got $21 million,” Creagh said. “It helped out here in Marquette and some other areas.”

The emergency dredging funding was provided in response to declining Great Lakes water levels causing problems for recreational and commercial boaters, landowners and others across Michigan.

“That was a great partnership between the DNR, the Waterways Commission, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Office of the Great Lakes, the Legislature and the governor,” Creagh said. “That was one of those things, to have it come together from December, to have it voted on in February and to have people dredging by April that is light speed for government.”

Creagh said a hunting and fishing license restructuring package – which reduced the number of licenses and included some fee increases to fund more conservation officers and various improvements – was also completed and approved by the Legislature.

Creagh said a new severance tax was developed for non-ferrous mining operations that replaced ad valorem property taxes on operations, including the Eagle Mine in Michigamme Township.

Part of that legislation created a new rural development fund for infrastructure and other improvement projects to be funded by proceeds from mining.

“And so we got a land strategy developed and into the governor’s office, so that we’ve got a – I’ll say a more thoughtful and strategic – policy about land and land strategy and how we’re going to do consolidation and how we’re going to be a better partner,” Creagh said.

Creagh met with county officials around the state on the land strategy.

“I actually visited with the 10 counties where we own the most state land and said, ‘Here’s our assets, from boat launches to cultural to natural resources, how can this help drive your local economy?’ ” Creagh said. “And that was a fascinating conversation for me anyway to have. Then I met with the five counties where we own the least amount of state land and asked the question, ‘Well, how come?’ And it was either a lack of understanding on their part, a lack of connectivity on DNR’s part or a lack of investment by the local units of government so they didn’t need the state support.”

Creagh said the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund recommended 76 projects totaling $23.5 million, which were approved by the Legislature. Of those, 66 of the land acquisition or development projects were awarded to local units of government.

Creagh said a successful timber sale was held last June. The summit considered a range of ideas and topics ranging from export activities, technology investment, jobs and timber sales.

“The Recreation Passport is still going good,” Creagh said. “We’re only at 28 percent. We need to increase that participation.”

The cost of the passport, which can be purchased when renewing vehicle license registration, increased in January from $10 to $11 as legislation dictates to keep pace with inflation.

A percentage of the proceeds funds preservation and protection of historic and cultural resources; assists with operation and maintenance of state forest campgrounds and pathways and provides money for grants to finance community recreation projects.

Creagh said there has been no backlash from the public as the state increased the number of places requiring a recreation passport for entry.

“Not at all,” Creagh said. “In fact there’s a generally overwhelming support for the passport. It still is the best deal in town. If you look at getting into 101 state parks, 1,000 boat launches, boating access sites, it’s pretty cheap, $11.”

Passport holders can also receive Passport Perks discounts from more than 1,000 businesses across the state.

“As we look back on the last year, once again we were named the No. 1 flyfishing state in the country, wehad the top bass fishing lake in the country – Lake St. Clair, southeast Michigan – so that’s kind of neat,” Creagh said. “If you look at the number of state parks, our visitation continues to go up. We had 22 million visitors last year, we hope to exceed that this year, and so things are pretty good in the DNR world.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net