Pigeon River & Beyond - Back Country Horsemen, Michigan

DNR, DEQ accountability is focus of rally

The Traverse City Record-Eagle

Published: April 04 / By Sheri McWhirter / smcwhirter@record-eagle.com 

GAYLORD -- Hundreds of outdoor denizens are expected to gather at a rally in Gaylord to demand better accountability from state government for natural resources and the environment.

Bureaucratic waste and misdirected spending will top the list of complaints expected to be voiced at a weekend event in Gaylord, the second in a series of what some call anti-Department of Natural Resources rallies.

Organizers say it's not meant to be a bash session against the state DNR and Department of Environmental Quality, but an opportunity to discuss needed change.

But officials from those state agencies likely won't be there to listen.

"People need to voice their opinions and people don't seem to have a forum to do that," said Mike Meriwether of Central Lake, a forester with the Antrim Conservation District, who organized the rally and invited state officials.

"Many have concerns over ... how our conservation dollars are being spent and the way our environmental law is being enforced or not enforced," he said.

Meriwether will moderate the "open mic" event, to which neither the DNR nor the DEQ will send representatives, although some members could attend on their own, officials said.

The rally may just be an attempt to make the state look bad, said Mary Dettloff, DNR spokeswoman.

"If people have concerns they want to air, that's their right to do," she said.

The DNR is trying to be more responsive to the public, posting monthly budget reports online and prioritizing the replacement of retired conservation and fire officers. However, the best way to encourage policy change with the DNR is to attend public meetings, send e-mails or write letters to officials, Dettloff said.

It's the same with the DEQ, which also encourages public input, spokesman Bob McCann said.

A popular opinion at last month's rally, where 400 turned up in Marquette, is that more emphasis and money should be invested in the field and less in Lansing.

"We want a change in the management philosophy of the DNR and DEQ to service the people and to service the resources, not build a bureaucracy," said Rory Mattson from the Delta Conservation District in the Upper Peninsula, a scheduled speaker.

A major concern among natural resource users is last year's threat of increased state hunting and fishing license fees, followed in December by the DNR's acknowledgment that it had a $10 million surplus in the game and fish fund that made the proposed hikes unnecessary.

"They didn't just, whoops, turn that money up," Mattson said.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs agrees it was extremely upsetting when they supported the proposed license fee increases and then learned it wasn't needed. And while state budget and funding issues must be discussed in the future, "firing pot shots at the DNR isn't going to solve problems," said Donna Stine, the agency's deputy policy director.

The rally will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Wilkinson Road in Gaylord. Call (231) 533-8363 for more information.

Organizers say another rally may soon be planned in Lansing.

Gaylord Rally

“This is a government by the people and for the people;

if we don’t get involved, changes won’t be made.”

-- Heidi Lang of the Antrim Conservation District

April 5, 2008 / Weekly Choice / By Mike Dunn


GAYLORD – Several hundred people packed the Knights of Columbus Hall in Gaylord on Saturday to express frustration about the direction they see the state government taking. The people who attended the rally were mostly part of “user groups” affected by recent regulations implemented by the Department of Natural Resources or the Department of Environmental Quality, or both state agencies.
Mike Meriwether of the Antrim Conservation District was the moderator of the meeting. He said the purpose of the rally wasn’t to bash the DNR or the DEQ, but to provide a forum for people to express their frustrations and to be a catalyst for user groups to have their voices heard in Lansing.


“The goal is to apply some pressure legislatively,” Meriwether, a Central Lake forester, said after the two-and-a-half hour rally ended. “We had a number of state representatives here. They’re very well aware of the frustrations that the user groups are facing and they’re very supportive of our efforts.”

State representatives Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Bellaire), Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), Darwin Booher (R-Evart) and Howard Walker (R-Traverse City) were all in attendance on Saturday along with former state representative Allen Lowe of the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity.

Casperson addressed the crowd briefly, encouraging them to “stand arm in arm” in their effort to make the government more accountable to the people.
“Sticking together is the way to get things done,” Casperson told those in attendance, drawing cheers.


Heidi Lang, a soil erosion officer with the Antrim Conservation District, seemed to speak for many in the crowd when she said change was needed at the state level.
Lang expressed personal frustration in dealing with what she termed government bureaucracy. It used to be that Lang could work directly with DNR and DEQ field personnel to fix problems relating to soil conversation and other environmental issues in Antrim County.
Because of recent changes “at the top level,” Lang is no longer able to work directly with field personnel. The result has been a negative impact on natural resources.

Lang cited a situation where a shoreline property suffered irreparable erosion because it took the state more than two years to act on a permit request to implement a bio-engineering solution for arresting the erosion.


“In the end, there was two feet of shoreline lost,” she said. “We could have had the right fix in a timely manner and it didn’t happen.”
Lang said that “common sense, science and a commitment to natural resources” must be employed to repair the present disconnect between people and the state government.
There were several issues brought up at the meeting by people representing various user groups. The issue of the transporting of waste from Bay Harbor to a deep injection well east of Alba was among the top button topics brought up by several people at the rally.
A topical issue of concern for people in Otsego County is a proposal by the DNR to limit horseback riders to certain trails within the Pigeon River State Forest.

The DNR has proposed limiting horses to the so-called “blue trails” within the 118,000-acre forest and that has a number of trail riders up in arms. Other sources of frustration for many are the closing of three campgrounds within the state forest and an increase in the fee to use the remaining campgrounds to $22 per night.
Elizabeth Edwards, a member of the Michigan Trail Riders Association, spoke emotionally about some of the changes that have taken place in the state forest. She related tales of taking her children and grandchildren on horseback through the trails since the 1970s and seeing things like a fawn being born or coming upon bull elk in a clearing.
“If the trails are restricted, these are things the kids won’t see,” said Edwards, who was visibly crying.


Carol Hyzer, a retired state employee and an MTRA member who resides in Grayling, noted that the MTRA spent more than $200,000 to build campsite at locations within the state forest that were chosen by the DNR. Hyzer said she personally helped to build many of the campgrounds along with fellow trail riders. Now the DNR is closing some of those sites.
Hyzer said the decision by the DNR will be costly in terms of tourism dollars.
“We have people who come from Missouri, Kentucky and other states every year to use these trails,” she told reporters after the meeting. “If they restrict the use of the trails and reduce the number of campgrounds, the people will stop coming. They have a number of alternatives. They don’t have to come here and spend their money.”

Steve Tomaski of Johannesburg, a member of the Farm Bureau equine advisory council, said that it’s not the presence of horses on the trails of the state forest that is impacting the movement of elk herds. Rather, it’s “the mismanagement of food sources for a non-native species.”


Tomaski added that “restricting the use of natural resources has served a select few at the expense of many,” drawing an enthusiastic response from the crowd.
One dissenting voice at Saturday’s rally was that Mike Brown of Gaylord. Though Brown is not a member of the Pigeon River Advisory Council, he attends their meetings and has kept himself abreast of the current developments.
Brown told those at Saturday’s meeting that the proposals by the DNR were not made without research and input. The proposed changes have been the result of a process that has taken nearly three years. During that time, there have been a number of different committees formed and the DNR has sought feedback from the public, including trail riders. An MTRA member from Alpena is a part of the advisory council, Brown added, and she was asked to “spread the word and find out what the people think.”
Brown also noted that from the beginning there been regulations in place governing the use of trails within the Pigeon River, even if those regulations have not always been enforced.
Rory Mattson of the Delta Conservation District in the Upper Peninsula was one of the featured speakers at Saturday’s rally. Mattson was a driving force behind a similar rally that was held in Marquette where 400 people were in attendance.


Mattson addressed concerns about the use and misuse of tax dollars at the state level and how more money should be invested in the field to protect and preserve natural resources and less money spent on bureaucratic waste in Lansing. Mattson wants to see the impacted user groups throughout the state come together as a united force “to make Lansing sit up and take notice.”
“The goal is transparency in finances and the management agenda within these two agencies,” Mattson told reporters after the meeting, referring to the DNR and the DEQ.
The Gaylord rally was the second meeting in a series of meetings planned at various locations in Michigan. According to the Outspoken Sportsman website, the purpose of the meetings is “unite all the user groups interested in the protection and management of our Natural Resources.”
“People want to know where their dollars are being spent,” Meriwether said, adding that the state raises user fees and reduces services at the same time, causing resentment and frustration among many state residents. If these concerns aren’t addressed, tourism will be negatively affected.
“This is a government by the people and for the people; if we don’t get involved, changes won’t be made,” Lang said. “If we come together with one voice, maybe we can make a difference.”

Posted By admin


Conservation, land use subject of rally Saturday

By Jil Schult, Staff Writer / Friday, April 4, 2008

GAYLORD — Sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts are being encouraged to attend a meeting Saturday (April 5) regarding what some say is a threat to natural resources.

This is the second Michigan Natural Resources Rally, hosted by Antrim Conservation District (ACD).

According to Rory Mattson, Delta County Conservation District director, 415 concerned citizens attended the first meeting, held in Marquette, and another 1,600 who couldn’t attend, called in support.

The problem, contends Mattson, is within the government and natural resource cuts, namely the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding finances and administrative management services.

“We have issue with bureaucracy,” stated Heidi Lang, Antrim Conservation District soil erosion officer.

“This is not a slam against the field people at all,” she said. “It’s about policies and procedures. It seems like fees are going up and services are going down.”

Mattson concurred.

“Don’t ask the sportsman for money if you already have it and you’re running an inefficient agency,” he said. “I believe the state needs to turn to it’s natural resources to help turn Michigan’s economy around.”

Mike Meriwether, a forester for ACD and host for today’s meeting, stated in a news release, “Each year more and more resource users are getting frustrated over how our natural resource agencies are conducting business and the delivery system to serve the public.

“Each year these same agencies cut more assistance services to the public, with the excuse of not enough money. The purpose of the meeting to provide a forum for natural resource users to voice their opinions about how natural resource issues are handled in our state,” he said.

Among the topics, speakers will address the equestrian use of public trails in the Pigeon River Forest.

Kathy Biernacki, a member of the Otsego County Mounted Division, plans to be at this afternoon’s session, along with other equine enthusiasts. She’s concerned about talk of closing the Pigeon River State Forest to horse riders.

Biernacki, who has been camping and riding the trails of the wilderness, questioned why state officials want to take that recreation away from residents.

“The horse people spent $200,000 of their own money to build camp sites,” Mattson added. “After the DNR picked out the places to build on, now they came in and said they don’t want them there.”

Today’s meeting, from 2 to 4 p.m., will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Wilkinson Road.

Contact Jil Schult at 748-4518 or


D.N.R.'s Pigeon River Forest Proposal Has Some Upset 

9 & 10 News / Posted: 4/4/2008

A proposal by the Department of Natural Resources has some people upset.

Right now people who ride bikes and horses can roam, for the most part, freely through the 118-thousand acre Pigeon River Country State Forest.

But the D.N.R is considering restricting different park users to designated areas.

9&10's Mona Nair and photojournalist Bridgette Pacholka spoke to one of many people upset about the proposal.

(There is also a video clip with Carol Hyzer, Michigan Trail Riders Member & Tri County Horse Association Member.) 

Natural Resource Rally 

9 & 10 News / April 5, 2008

Natural Resource users joined together this afternoon to voice their concerns at a rally in Gaylord.
Outdoorsmen and women from snowmobile groups to horseback riders came to speak out on frustrations they have with state agencies, including the DNR and DEQ.
We sent a news crew to the meeting, we'll have a full wrap up coming up on 9&10 News at 11.


Outdoor Group Holds Rally

9 & 10 News / Posted:  4/5/2008

Natural Resource users joined together on Saturday afternoon in Gaylord to voice their concerns of how natural resource issues are handled in the state.
Outdoorsmen and women from snowmobile groups to horseback riders and even hunters and fisherman came to speak out on frustrations they have with state agencies, including the DNR and DEQ.
They spoke as one, sharing one major concern.
This rally was the second held in a series of meetings. The first one was held in Marquette. They plan on holding another one in the near future.
There were no representatives from the DNR or DEQ at Saturday's meeting.
9&10's Shainna Ziegler and photojournalist Josh Strand were at the meeting and have the report.