State Environmental Regulators Push Ahead
While I was director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, an e-mail exchange between the department and a Michigan landowner in late 1997 and early 1998 made quite a stir as it circulated around the Internet. A dam was being constructed over a stream on private property — a dam built by beavers. For awhile, this didn't seem to matter to local state regulators, who insisted that those building dams over streams in Michigan must have a permit. Although I was not aware of the department's misguided attempt at regulating beavers until it was picked up in the media, the landowner's clever rebuttal brought a smile to my face.
The DEQ's note and the landowner's reply are reprinted at below, and are still widely available on the Internet and often circulated (in various altered forms) via e-mail chains.
Unfortunately, I must admit, I was not surprised by this incident. Most, but not all, of the state's environmental regulators have a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to enforcing the state's many complicated environmental laws.
I have direct experience working as a natural resource and environmental regulator for the states of Alaska, Arizona, Missouri and Michigan. Of those, my experience is that environmental regulators in Michigan generally have the most negative view of those whom they regulate. This attitude hurts the state's economy, fosters ill will from its residents, and often leads to environmental degradation rather than improvement.
individuals who fear regulators often hide from them rather than attempting to
voluntarily cooperate. It is common knowledge that all too often a landowner or
developer in Michigan fires up a bulldozer under the cover of night and fills a
wetland rather then attempt to legally obtain a permit from
a hostile bureaucracy.
The zeal of Michigan environmental regulators in enforcing environmental regulations is not just confined to developers, as I discovered while serving as director of Michigan State Parks. The state park near Bay City was in serious decline during the early 1990s due to the accumulation of algae on the beach, rendering it unusable to visitors. I was informed by wetland regulators that they now considered the beach a regulated wetland (apparently a few reeds had sprouted during the period the beach was not groomed) and I needed a wetland permit in order to remove muck.
Unless state environmental regulators start utilizing some common sense in the enforcement of state environmental laws, these beavers in the story below will not be the last ones threatened with fines.
Original note from the MDEQ
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
HOLLISTER BUILDING, PO BOX 30473, LANSING MI 48909-7973
RUSSELL J. HARDING, Director
December 17, 1997
Mr. Ryan DeVries
Pierson, MI 49339
Dear Mr. DeVries:
SUBJECT: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023-1 T11N, R10W, Sec. 20, Montcalm County
It has come to the attention of the Department of Environmental Quality that there has been recent unauthorized activity on the above referenced parcel of property. You have been certified as the legal landowner and/or contractor who did the following unauthorized activity: Construction and maintenance of two wood debris dams across the outlet stream of Spring Pond.
A permit must be issued prior to the start of this type of activity. A review of the Department's files show that no permits have been issued. Therefore, the Department has determined that this activity is in violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws annotated.
The Department has been informed that one or both of the dams partially failed during a recent rain event, causing debris dams and flooding at downstream locations. We find that dams of this nature are inherently hazardous and cannot be permitted. The Department therefore orders you to cease and desist all unauthorized activities at this location, and to restore the stream to a free-flow condition by removing all wood and brush forming the dams from the strewn channel. All restoration work shall be completed no later than January 31, 1998. Please notify this office when the restoration has been completed so that a follow-up site inspection may be scheduled by our staff.
Failure to comply with this request, or any further unauthorized activity on the site, may result in this case being referred for elevated enforcement action.
We anticipate and would appreciate your full cooperation in this matter. Please feel free to contact me at this office if you have any questions.
David L. Price
Land and Water Management Division
Response to MDEQ
David L. Price
Land and Water Management Division
Grand Rapids District Office
State Office Bldg., 6th Floor
350 Ottawa, N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49503-2341
Dear Mr. Price:
Re: DEQ File No. 97-59-0023; T11N, R10W, Sec 20; Montcalm County
Your certified letter dated 12/17/97 has been handed to me to respond to. You sent out a great deal of carbon copies to a lot of people, but you neglected to include their addresses. You will, therefore, have to send them a copy of my response.
First of all, Mr. Ryan DeVries is not the legal landowner and/or contractor at 2088 Dagget, Pierson, Michigan — I am the legal owner and a couple of beavers are in the (state unauthorized) process of constructing and maintaining two wood "debris" dams across the outlet stream of my Spring Pond. While I did not pay for, nor authorize their dam project, I think they would be highly offended you call their skillful use of natural building materials "debris". I would like to challenge you to attempt to emulate their dam project any dam time and/or any dam place you choose. I believe I can safely state there is no dam way you could ever match their dam skills, their dam resourcefulness, their dam ingenuity, their dam persistence, their dam determination and/or their dam work ethic.
As to your dam request the beavers first must fill out a dam permit prior to the start of this type of dam activity, my first dam question to you is: are you trying to discriminate against my Spring Pond Beavers or do you require all dam beavers throughout this state to conform to said dam request?
If you are not discriminating against these particular beavers, please send me completed copies of all those other applicable beaver dam permits. Perhaps we will see if there really is a dam violation of Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of the Public Acts of 1994, being sections 324.30101 to 324.30113 of the Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated.
My first concern is — aren't the dam beavers entitled to dam legal representation? The Spring Pond Beavers are financially destitute and are unable to pay for said dam representation — so the state will have to provide them with a dam lawyer.
The Department's dam concern that either one or both of the dams failed during a recent rain event causing dam flooding is proof we should leave the dam Spring Pond Beavers alone rather than harassing them and calling them dam names. If you want the dam stream "restored" to a dam free-flow condition — contact the dam beavers. But if you are going to arrest them (they obviously did not pay any dam attention to your dam letter — being unable to read English) — be sure you read them their dam Miranda first.
As for me, I am not going to cause more dam flooding or dam debris jams by interfering with these dam builders. If you want to hurt these dam beavers — be aware I am sending a copy of your dam letter and this response to PETA. If your dam Department seriously finds all dams of this nature inherently hazardous and truly will not permit their existence in this dam state, then I seriously hope you are not selectively enforcing this dam policy or once again both I and the Spring Pond Beavers will scream prejudice!
In my humble opinion, the Spring Pond Beavers have a right to build their dam unauthorized dams as long as the sky is blue, the grass is green and water flows downstream. They have more dam right than I to live and enjoy Spring Pond. So, as far as I and the beavers are concerned, this dam case can be referred for more dam elevated enforcement action now. Why wait until 1/31/98? The Spring Pond Beavers may be under the dam ice then, and there will be no dam way for you or your dam staff to contact/harass them then.
In conclusion, I would like to bring to your attention a real environmental quality (health) problem; bears are actually defecating in our woods. I definitely believe you should be persecuting the defecating bears and leave the dam beavers alone.
If you are going to investigate the beaver dam, watch your step! The bears are not careful where they dump!
Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office.
Stephen L. Tvedten