Pigeon River & Beyond - Back Country Horsemen, Michigan



May 13, 2008

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee:

I would like to thank the members of this committee for the opportunity to testify today!  As a veteran of this country I took the oath to protect and defend the freedoms we enjoy here in this country.  This is the greatest county on the face of the earth.  I'm proud of our brave young men and women who continue to defend our way of life and freedoms.  We should not and can not forget the sacrifices that they make everyday, yes even with their lives!  I'm speaking today on what I believe to be an abridgment of my rights to enjoy our land.  This has become very personal for me, my friends and my family.  I speak on behalf of my children, grandchildren and future generations.  We have countless thousands of people backing our cause:  17,000 UPSA members,20,000 MSA members and nearly 80,000 recreational equestrian trail riders.  Our common concern is the continued further deprivation of the rights to use our land and our trail system.  In the equine case it a predestined intentionally exclusionary elitist agenda.  This blatant discrimination!!!!!!!!!!!

My family and I have ridden in the PRC for over 20 years.  We enjoy the beauty and quietness of the forest with always the hope that we might see some Elk.  We always go to one of the primitive remote sights to get away from hustle of everyday life.  The 15 remote sights are scattered randomly throughout the vastness of the 118,000 acre forest.  That equates to 7866 ac. / campsite which accommodates 2 horse rigs.  This is hardly a negative environmental impact.  I'm sad to say that in the past 5 years we've noticed more rhetoric and negativity towards us.  I think PS Lovejoy would roll over if he knew how out of control this mandate is.

Teddy Roosevelt and FDR loved riding the land on horseback.  It's a quiet activity where one can connect with the land.  It's hard to comprehend the mindset of the vindictive individuals who no longer want to see horse in the PRC.

There is a litany of claims by the DNR that we've heard as to why this COM plan has to be signed (sooner rather than later).  We have asked for verification with sound science based answers supporting their ludicrous claims but still have not received the information.

The truth is that a high level DNR official, Mr. Bill O'Neill, told me that they have had a lot of pressure from fringe groups and we're asking you horse people to stay out of the PRC and ride the heck out of the other 400 and some odd thousand acres.  That was an arrogant and insulting statement not only to me and my family but to the many fine folks I've met on the trail i.e. Dr.s, attorneys, bankers, truckers, construction and trade people along with fellow farmers.  We are the very fabric of people in this state that makes Michigan tick!  We are the people with larger land bases, mostly self-employed who are tax-paying, law abiding citizens.  I guess you could call us FREEDOM LOVERS.  We are pretty much outdoor people who also buy hunting and fishing licenses and hope to draw an Elk permit.

I've only had knowledge of this mandate since the end of March.  I attended the DNR Rally April 5th, the NRC commission meeting on April 10th and had my wife and 5 others attend the PR Council meeting on April 11th. I’m glad they went. This venue offered 10 minutes of public comment where 3 of our folks voiced their opinions about camp closures and the dangers of road riding. They heard the discussion regarding having a year moratorium where at this meeting a council member, Dave Smethurst, stated that calmer heads should prevail, let’s do it once and do it right; he also expressed the dangers of 3 circle rides and asked what’s the big hurry? Prior to the vote, Deputy Director Mindy Koch stated that the horse input committee was in agreement with the new proposal: circle rides, camp closures as well as the closing of the random trails. The vote was taken and the year moratorium was defeated. I’ve now talked with all three that worked on the horse input committee and each said that they wanted a year moratorium, were opposed to camp closures, random trail closures, against the circle rides, and suggested that a reservation system be implemented if there is a concern about over-usage. This sounds like common sense!!! Again, as Dave said, what’s the hurry?

I’ve now spoken with 3 PR Council members to get a sense as to how all this came about so suddenly. Two voted for the year moratorium and one against!

Dave Smethurst informed me that he was the chair of the advisory committee that worked with the horse people. He told me that when he submitted their results, suddenly a steering committee usurped their work and reversed their recommendations. He felt disenfranchised and used. I’ve served on many boards and that is not how business is conducted. How can you possibly have a representative outcome when the deck is stacked against you?? From that point forward with a pre-destined outcome we basically were wasting our time with the comment periods and testifying at the NRC commission meetings. At the last meeting where 6 or 7 of our folks testified there was not 1 question asked of them! Why waste time when you’re mind is made up!

This whole deal does not sound like democracy in action!

In my 20 plus years of riding the Pigeon I’ve never had a user conflict; folks are cordial and respectful of the privilege and right to ride the Pigeon! The only conflict I’ve ever had has been with the DNR! The 15 remote sites are just that, remotely located! 118,000 acres divided by 15 = 7866 acres per campsite. That’s why I want to continue camping there! The original camp at Elk Hills was intentionally built for small rigs not the larger ones which seem to be the trend. But as Dave Smethurst stated: this new ruling is destined for failure; again you must remember that Dave has a lot of common sense! So much so that they couldn’t accept his committees recommendation.

The SPIN should cease!

According to Clay Taylor of Capitol News Service the index finger of Michigan’s Mitten is suffering a disproportionate high unemployment rate. Of the 10 highest increases in unemployment by county from 2006-2007; four of them Alpena, Montmorency, Otsego, and Presque Isle are in the northeast, according to the Michigan League for Human Services. These counties have seen food assistance increases from 15% to 40%. The Governor is always talking about ways to reinvigorate Michigan’s Tourism Industry; why then is there no consideration to the area businesses up there?? Towns like Gaylord, Vanderbilt, Wolverine, Onaway, Indian River, Cheboygan, Atlanta, Johannesburg and other town will be devastated by this order. When we travel to the Pigeon we drop money: Fuel, few groceries, restaurant and supplies. While up to the Pigeon a week ago I spoke to some area business people and they thought I was joking. They said that they depend on the horse people for their business particularly in the summer and fall months: They said they hadn’t heard anything about it? Again I ask, as Dave Smethurst asked, ‘" What’s the Hurry?" On page 35 of the COM draft it states that "It is critical to gain public support by fostering an increased awareness and understanding of the value and uniqueness of the PRC. Public support should be increased by regular communication with conservation groups, area businesses local government, private landowners and the general public.

In trying to organize our thoughts for this meeting I wanted to review the minutes of the PR Council meeting for January and April. They still are not posted! I wonder why; January was a long time ago!

I think that this period was somewhat contentious; I need the information, please!!

What about the impact to folks who have purchased land to enjoy riding out their back yard and into the Pigeon. On Thursday they were law abiding citizens, on Friday they were outlaws. The DNR simply doesn’t care about the "human impact"! What impact does it have to land values? The oppressive actions by the DNR are running out of control. It’s amazing that our legislators weren’t even aware of this boondoggle. Of the 12 legislative offices I spoke with only 8 weeks ago, only 2 had heard something about it. Lansing is broken and needs to be fixed. How long do you think the citizens of this state will continue to put up with this? You should have an oversight committee that keeps track of the DNR’s movements. There seems to be no accountability! We are tired of one-way mandates! Of the People, By the People, and most importantly For the People!! There should have been state wide hearings, economic impact study and input from diverse trail groups with grass roots involvement.

An intentionally exclusionary elitist agenda should never dictate to the masses; IT IS NOT AMERICAN!

Respectfully Submitted,Richard Kleinhardt