Michigan Republicans — December 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Michigan Republicans don’t do “science”, new law would reject biodiversity as a criterion for managing state lands


In a 2011 paper published in the journal Nature, Elsa Cleland studied the impact of biodiversity on ecosystems. Her study concluded with this summary:

Evidence from multiple ecosystems at a variety of temporal and spatial scales, suggests that biological diversity acts to stabilize ecosystem functioning in the face of environmental fluctuation. Variation among species in their response to such fluctuation is an essential requirement for ecosystem stability, as is the presence of species that can compensate for the function of species that are lost. While much of the evidence presented here has focused on the consequences of changes in species diversity on primary production in natural ecosystems, recent research has found similar relationships between species diversity and ecosystem productivity in human-managed ecosystems.

This is just one of countless scientific studies that have concluded that biodiversity is an essential component of healthy, sustainable ecosystems whether they are human-managed or not.

This is what experts refer to as “science”. Michigan Republicans, as part of a national trend, reject this “science”. Clear evidence is on display in this year’s painful lame duck session. A bill introduced by Senator Tom Casperson – S.B. 78 – is speedily making its way through the legislature. It was passed by the Senate in March of 2013 and, yesterday, was passed by the House Committee on Natural Resources and is headed for a full House vote.

Put simply, S.B. 78 strips the use of science out of any managment of state lands as it pertains to biodiversity. The current law – Public Act 451 of 1994 – says this in Section 324.52502 – “Management of state forest; manner; duties of department”:

The department shall manage the state forest in a manner that is consistent with principles of sustainable forestry and in doing so shall do all of the following: […]

(iii) Manage the quality and distribution of wildlife habitats and contribute to the conservation of biological diversity by developing and implementing stand and landscape-level measures that promote habitat diversity and the conservation of forest plants and animals including aquatic flora and fauna and unique ecosystems.

Here’s what it looks like after Casperson got done having his way with it:

(iii) Manage SUBJECT TO SECTION 504(7), MANAGING the quality and distribution of wildlife habitats and contribute to the S00698’13 (S-1) TMV conservation of biological diversity by developing and implementing stand and landscape-level CONSIDERING measures that promote habitat diversity and the conservation of forest plants and animals including aquatic flora and fauna and unique ecosystems. WHILE BALANCING ECONOMIC VALUES.

It also adds this rather shocking section to the existing law:


And there you have it. “Science” is tossed out the door in favor of making a buck. Or, in the case of the corporations that lease our lands to exploit our natural resources for profit, LOTS of bucks.

Groups that actually value “science” when it comes to land management are understandably outraged at this anti-science bill. The Michigan Environmental Council had this to say about it:

“This is terrible legislation,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues for the Michigan Environmental Council. “It undercuts one of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) chief missions – to protect and enhance the diversity and splendor of Michigan’s woodlands and forests.”

The bill undermines important tools used by the DNR to manage land, including the Michigan Endangered Species Act, weakening the state’s ability to protect unique Michigan assets that contribute to the economy and Michiganders’ quality of life.

“Scientific land management for biodiversity is a healthy and accepted philosophy that would be forced underground by this legislation,” said Lisa Brush, executive director of The Stewardship Network. “Removing science and biology from land and forest management is an irresponsible rejection of good natural resources practices.” […]

SB 78’s stunning assumption is that the perpetual survival of native species and natural communities is not of critical importance to Michigan and its residents. In addition to undermining Michigan’s commitment to common sense, science-based natural resources management, the legislation may also endanger other DNR programs like forest certification, and put at risk areas that have long enabled people to see and appreciate Michigan’s amazing natural assets.

Lisa Wozniak, executive director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters, was equally outspoken:

In their misguided efforts to redefine conservation, too many lawmakers in Lansing are defining themselves as anti-science, anti-sustainability, and anti-Pure Michigan.

The best example of that, Senate Bill 78 – the “anti-biodiversity” bill – is on a fast-track through the Legislature right now. […]

By greatly restricting the DNR from considering biodiversity as part of its comprehensive land use policy, the legislation jeopardizes the forests, lakes, native plants and animals that make Michigan a world-renowned destination.

This is not just an environmental issue. At 3.9 million acres, Michigan has the largest state forest system in the country; it’s something we should be proud of, not try to dismantle. Our natural resources are drivers of Michigan’s economy and the bedrock of the Pure Michigan ad campaign that draws people to our beaches, forests, and lakes from across America. […]

The bottom line is the anti-biodiversity bill is flat-out bad policy. Countless scientists and experts from Michigan’s universities testified before committee to say the same thing with stacks of research.

Loggers, farmers, hunters, fishers, anyone who enjoys or relies on our natural resources recognize biodiversity is vital to the integrity of Michigan’s land and water.

Eliminating it as a legitimate reason to protect public land damages our economy, environment and reputation. We cannot allow the anti-biodiversity proponents to define Michigan as anti-science, anti-sustainability, and anti-biodiversity. That’s just not who we are here in the Great Lakes State.

As Wozniak points out, this isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue. However, for the logging industry that benefits from growing one species of tree on the public lands that they lease, biodiversity is a blow to their bottom line.

As it turns out, Casperson himself has a vested interest in making sure the logging industry flourishes. His family owns Casperson and Son Trucking, a log-hauling operation that’s been around for nearly three decades and which he himself owned and operated.

In other words, Casperson’s rejection of science isn’t for the economic benefit of ALL of Michigan’s residents, it’s for the economic benefit of himself and his family. To say that he has a conflict of interest in this situation is an understatement. He is, plainly put, a corporatist who has gotten into the state legislature in order to promote his own personal financial interests.

One more thing: Casperson doesn’t have much nice to say about the scientists who oppose these efforts. He had this to say on an Upper Peninisula radio station last spring:

We’re gettin’ quite a bit of heat from universities, we’ve got some professors, we’ve got one particular professor out of Michigan that testified in my committee and, um, he’s now been doing some writing in the papers – the Free Press and The Detroit News. You know, it’s one of those things that, his comments are I think intended to belittle people and I don’t appreciate that. But, he’s talking about how I and others on the committee couldn’t pass his class, you know, we wouldn’t be smart enough to pass his class. And that’s fine. But I kinda look at it, Walt, that he wouldn’t be smart enough and talented enough to haul a load of wood out of the woods and get it delivered to the mill, maintain that truck, and run that small business. So, that doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person or is not talented. He’s just talented in a different area.

What Casperson is saying is that he doesn’t feel he needs to be educated or “talented” in the science of land management, he just needs to know how to run the log-hauling company that benefits from making sure science plays no role in how to manage that land.

[Photo by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.]