How to Collaboratively Manage Michigan’s Federal Lands

Study shows the benefits for public and private land owners

Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Holly Wetzel
Communications Coordinator

MIDLAND — Collaboration between public land managers, private property owners, businesses and residents can help reduce conflicts and improve environmental outcomes, according to a study released today by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Ten percent of Michigan land is owned and managed by the federal government, far more than any other state in the Midwest. This creates some unique issues for many Michigan landowners, but also hunters, fishermen, hikers and more.

Largely due to complex federal regulations and law, private landowners often find themselves at odds with federal land managers. The complexities arise when the competing demands of private property rights, historical land use and environmental concerns square off. Federal land managers are often unwilling or unable to find compromise solutions and instead impose their decrees. This study argues that many of these problems are best addressed when land managers work closely with private land owners and communities before they make final decisions about land use.

Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center and author of the study, observed the importance of collaboration.

“I’ve had federal land managers tell me they work to manage public lands in a fair and impartial manner, but are often constrained by immovable requirements of legislation,” said Hayes. “Yet we have still found examples of managers imposing their views of land management on citizens and communities. Citizens have a right to use both their private property and the adjoining public lands. But for them to exercise those rights, we’re finding that collaboration between private individuals and public land managers is increasingly important.”

Often it’s possible to strike a compromise of all the varied interests that surface during a dispute over proper land use. The study describes poorly managed conflicts, in both Michigan and across the nation, and compares them with examples of successful collaborative approaches from others states. Examples include:

  • Good Neighbor Authority: This federal program lets the U.S. Forest Service work with state foresters, giving them the ability to perform essential management activities on National Forest System lands.
  • Land swaps: To handle boundary disputes, private land owners swap a parcel of their land for a piece of federal land.
  • Public-private alliances: Private interest groups — such as sportsmen clubs, businesses, and environmental groups — can work together with land managers to determine the best management techniques for their areas.

“Using these collaborative management techniques gives residents a say in how their land and the areas in which they live are managed,” said Hayes. “That will lead to increased support for — and reduced conflict over — land management decisions.”

You can view the complete study here.