The Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources Committee voted the bill HB 4610 out of committee May 5th! We've shaken things up in Michigan!
Thank you to everyone who came to the hearing again to show their support, to those who testified and to all those who have worked so hard to get this important legislation this far to date!
This bill can and will set the stage for all user groups rights to use and enjoy public land! It's important to let other user groups understand that we must stand united on this bill to take back some ground for all of us!
The hearing for H.B. 4610 was held before the Tourism, Outdoor Recreation - Natural Resource Committee Tuesday. What a wonderful turnout! Thank you to all of you who attended, to all who testified at the hearing and to all our Representatives on the committee! Eight thousand-three hundred and eighty (8380) petition signatures were handed in at the hearing! Those numbers continue to climb. The current running total is 10,429!
Horse riders were out en masse Tuesday lending their support to legislation requiring the Department of Natural Resources to allow riding on state land in areas where it was recently prohibited.
HB 4610 follows the closure of some back country trails in the Pigeon River Country State Park in 2008, although some proponents of the legislation said the DNR has systematically been closing down access to riders in state parks for some time.
The legislation calls for reopening some trailways that have been closed down and for the department to preserve and facilitate use of some trails that have historically been used by horseback riders.
DNR Legislative Liaison Dan Eichinger said the department continues to oppose the legislation because it conflicts with the federal guidelines for money used to buy land in the park because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes having horses travel through these back country trails disrupts the wildlife in that area.
But Rep. Tim Moore (R-Farwell), sponsor of the bill, said he's been told elk in the park are not adversely affected by the presence of horses. He said the country roads and other pathways the DNR still has open for horse riding are not adequate.
"It's just frustrating because we are getting to the point so we can buy the land and nobody can use it ever again," said Rep. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart).
Mr. Eichinger said the department is trying to strike a balance between wildlife needs, the fact that money from anglers and hunters paid for the land and providing access to various recreational activities in the parks. He said the state can't afford to be in violation of the federal guidelines and risk being taken out of consideration for funding grants.
But Rep. Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said lawmakers should be able to find out which cases the federal government examined to determine horseback riding in Michigan would violate their guidelines and see if any of those cases were actually in the state.
And Rep. Joel Sheltrown (D-West Branch) said the idea is simply to get reasonable trails for the riders that are not on the roads. He said legislation was the only way to spur discussion to that effect.
Mr. Eichinger said he would contact the federal government to see what kind of exemptions to the guidelines have been given, but he expressed doubt an exemption could be granted because the money used to buy the land was awarded for wildlife preservation.
Supporters gathering in the Lobby at the Anderson House Building in
Lansing, MI for the hearing.
April 28, 2009
The House Office Building was filled this morning with horseback riders who came to show support for a bill that would give them back something they believe has been taken away from them.
Last year, Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM went along with the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) recommendation to restrict horseback riding in the Pigeon River State Forest. According to the DNR, the basis for the recommendation was that the state would lose out on $25 million in federal habitat enhancement dollars annually (plus other potential penalties for noncompliance) if the restrictions weren't put into place.
Basically, the DNR argues that the restrictions are necessary for compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules, that are based on the claim that horseback riding is not consistent with the federal strings that came with the money used to pay for the land in the first place. This, apparently, stems from the federal agency's assessment that somehow horseback riding interferes with elk in the state forest.
HB 4610 would do more than just get rid of the restrictions. It would "preserve and facilitate" the use of horses and mules on all state-owned lands where there is a historical tradition of this use.
In addition, under HB 4610, the Natural Resources Commission would have to establish a network of trailways on state-owned lands for use by horses and mules that included "trailways and other areas" where there was a "historical tradition" of these animals being used.
The House Committee on Tourism, Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resources took up HB 4610 today for discussion only. The hearing attracted an overflow crowd sporting cowboy and cowgirl hats that filled the committee room and a second room where the proceedings were shown on a screen.
"Anytime the citizens of this state are denied access to state land it raises a red flag," said Rep. Tim MOORE (R-Farwell) the sponsor of the bill. "Limiting an $8 billion industry for no reason is not helping our state."
Supporters of the bill, claim that people come to Michigan from as far away as Canada and Texas to ride horses in Michigan, and have placed an $8 billion tag on the state horseback riding "industry."
DNR Spokesman Dan EICHINGER had the unpopular job of defending the department's position in front of the hostile audience.
"I want to point out that horseback riding can still take place on designated trails in the state forest and on county roads," said Eichinger, adding that he thought the problem the feds had with horseback riding involved going across country.
"I think these people are looking for reasonable trails off the road," said Committee Chair Joel SHELTROWN (D-West Branch). "Do you think it would be possible for the DNR to create some?"
"I'll carry that question back with me," Eichinger responded.
This response spawned a spontaneous groan from the audience.
Sheltrown also asked if mushroom pickers and berry pickers interfere with the elk.
In response, Eichinger said that the federal fish and wildlife service did not consider those activities to conflict with the purpose for which the land was designated.
It seems more than likely that the bill will eventually be reported out of committee. However, it's unclear what its future would be on the House floor, or if it were to reach Granholm's desk.
The best bet may be that at some stage of the process there will be serious efforts made to try to find a compromise. Meanwhile, lawmakers who support HB 4610 had a good crowd to play to today.
"We're getting to the point where we're buying more and more land and nobody can use it," said Rep. Geoff HANSEN (R-Hart). "Whose government is it anyway? There wouldn't even be a DNR without the citizens."
Not surprisingly, the audience cheered in response to this line of commentary.
The State Capital / Lansing, Michigan
(Above) Gregg Stoll / State Capital, Lansing MI
Nanette White / State Capital, Lansing MI
For information, contact:
A paper and online petition were submitted with more than 8300 signatures that were gathered in just six weeks, representing more than 1% of the 80,000 state-wide trail riders. Supporters said that the petition drive would continue until trail users get the use of the land back.
The Committee will be voting on the bill on Tuesday, May 5th, 2009.
Visit www.bchmi.org for more information.
Getting ready for the hearing.....
Former Rep. Tom Casperson / Testified before the Committee
Nanette White / BCHMI.org Webmaster
Members holding a stack of petitions containing the signatures of 8380 supporters!
April 28, 2009