Nahma Township is a small community of about 500, located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Established in 1856 as a timber and sawmill community, Nahma has long-standing ties to the land, with people living there 75 years before the Hiawatha National Forest was established in 1931. Area residents enjoy the snowmobile, off-road, and hiking trails their grandparents built and fish the same spots and hunt in the same blinds as their parents did when they were children.
Today, Nahma Township and the surrounding area sit within the boundaries of Hiawatha National Forest. The rugged beauty of places in the Upper Peninsula, including the township, also attracts outdoor adventurers who come from all over to enjoy its natural environment. Outdoor recreation is now a key source of income for area residents who were once employed in logging or mining.
Graphic 2: Nahma Township, Michigan
Source: Google Maps
In August 2016, the Forest Service released a draft plan, known as the Camp Cooks Integrated Resource Management Project, which called for closing 95 percent of “Operational Maintenance Level 1” roads — trails for off-road vehicles such as four-wheelers and snowmobiles — near Nahma Township. The plan also called for decommissioning over 16 miles of “illegal” off-road trails. The Forest Service based its plan to close these popular trails on the assertion that they were “contributing to resource damage to wetlands or riparian floodplains.”
Forest Service officials presented their plan, in what appeared to be a nearly complete form, at a well-attended Nahma Township meeting in September 2016. Having had no prior public consultation with Forest Service officials, local residents believed that they were expected to simply sign off on the recommended closures. Not surprisingly, they strongly opposed the closures and expressed concerns that the public meeting had only been held to check off the “public input” requirement for an already-completed plan. Their comments at the public meeting indicated a belief that Forest Service officials were attempting to force an end to long-established hunting, fishing, and recreational uses of the area and that those actions would have severe impacts on the local economy. Forest Service employees disagreed, repeatedly stating that “no decision has been made” regarding road or trail closures and that the public meeting was being held to give the community an opportunity to comment.
Michigan State Sen. Tom Casperson and State Rep. Ed McBroom also voiced their opposition to the plan in emails, in person at the September meeting and in an official letter addressed to the Forest Service district office and the National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for the region. Casperson and McBroom asked the Forest Service to “abandon this proposed project and work with local units of government, users and organizations to determine how this public land can further enhance the local communities.” In public statements at these meetings, Sen. Casperson also noted that Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources was opposed to the plan.