January 31, 2012
LANSING, MI — On September 29, 2010, Kurt Meister, a southeast Michigan attorney won a case against the USDA Forest Service claiming that his right to enjoy public lands in Michigan were being infringed upon by noisy firearms hunters and folks using snowmobiles on designated trail. His solution? Ban guns and snowmobiles on almost 70,000 acres of the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a non-profit conservation group that has served as Michigan’s most powerful voice for hunters and anglers in Michigan since 1937, blew the whistle on the suit and quickly organized a response fueled by sound science-based management principles and its tens of thousands of members who believe strongly in the rights of Michigan’s citizens to hunt, fish and trap on public lands.
Meister’s suit was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which identified deficiencies in how the Forest Service revised the 2006 Land and Resource Management Plan. The USFS was required to address those deficiencies. On Monday, those results were revealed.
MUCC and its members were heard loud and clear: Hunting is very much an accepted use of Michigan’s public lands and no regulation changes will be made to impact those activities in the Huron-Manistee National Forest.
The USFWS adopted “Alternative 4″ which maintains the rights of hunters to hunt in all areas as were allowed previously. Snowmobiling will also be preserved on designated trails.
“We’re pleased to see that the USFS clearly understood that hunting is — and always will be — an accepted use on state and federal lands in Michigan,” said Erin McDonough, Executive Director of MUCC. “The notion that hunters create conflicts with other users because of the noise of gunfire is silly. They’re hunters not mercenaries. The sounds of the occasional gunshot during hunting season on public land is not something we should villainize. It’s something we should celebrate because it is one the lifebloods of this state’s economy.”
The USFS ruling was not without some potential problems however. The agency also announced that it will retain the objective in several areas in the Huron-Manistee to provide for a “less-roaded opportunity” relative to the rest of the forest. Any road closures would still have to go through analysis and public comment before a site-specific decision would be made.
“We understand the Forest Service’s desire to eliminate some roads that either were not intended to be permanent or were illegally created,” said McDonough. “But there must be a process in place to determine which roads will be closed so that adequate access is maintained. There is a fine line between creating a more solitary experience for those who are seeking that and shutting the public out of the land that they own. We will be watching this process very closely to ensure that hunters, anglers and trappers are considered in those decisions.”
While the first battle in this war has been won thanks to the efforts of MUCC and its members and partners, it is not yet over. The decision is still subject to appeals and MUCC will be actively monitoring the situation to ensure the final outcome is the best one for Michigan’s sportsmen and women.