DNR land swap deal provides rare win-win situation

A 160-acre land swap approved Thursday by Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh provides a great win-win situation for the public and Dean Oswald, the owner of the popular Oswald’s Bear Ranch, the largest bear ranch in the country.

The deal will allow Oswald to expand his ranch, which has been growing and improving since he first opened the facility to the public in 1997. The ranch has 29 bears, viewable to the public via raised platforms.

The DNR acquired the land being provided to Oswald in 1939 through tax reversion. The property is adjacent to Oswald’s private ranch. In exchange, the DNR will receive land located a few miles east, off M-123. The state’s Land Exchange Review Committee reviewed the exchange and recommended its approval in May 2013.

“This exchange will provide legal, public and management access to (a) large area of state land which has been nearly inaccessible,” a DNR information brief on the transaction stated. “In addition, the offered property will connect public lands northerly and southerly of the tract, consolidating state ownership and increasing conservation and recreation opportunities.”

The land the state is acquiring contains a high degree of species diversity and contains good habitat for white-tailed deer, black bear, woodcock, snowshoe hare and ruffed grouse, the brief said.

DNR officials said the exchange meets goals and objectives of the agency’s Managed Public Land Strategy by increasing access to DNR-managed public lands, will foster regional economic prosperity and will assist in increasing tourism in an area of large public land holdings, enhancing the local economy, consolidating public and private ownership.

The land the DNR will acquire will assume the tax reversion status of the parcel being provided to Oswald.

The land deal provides one of those opportunities where both sides get great benefits. The public benefits by gaining greater access to state lands and also by receiving the benefit of a larger tourist attraction in Oswald’s ranch – an increased opportunity to safely see and photograph bears at close range in clear view.

The deal also constitutes a smart move on the part of the DNR.

We applaud those working behind the scenes to craft the deal, Creagh for approving it and Oswald for giving the region a great family fun attraction with what will now be expanded capabilities.