MARQUETTE - Named by Gov. Rick Snyder as the new head of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission - the governing body of the Department of Natural Resources - J.R. Richardson of Ontonagon brings a wealth of experience to the position.
A lifelong environmental advocate, Richardson has worked throughout his life to ensure the natural resources of the Upper Peninsula are accessible and well taken care of.
His 31-year career in the paper industry ended in December 2007. He began as a union coal handler, paper machine laborer and recovery boiler operator in 1976 with Champion International Corporation. Throughout his career, Richardson worked as a process engineer, engineering supervisor, production supervisor and quality and environmental manger. Richardson ended his paper industry career as an operations and technical manager for Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation. Since December 2007, he has worked for the New York-based TRAXYS Corporation, which creates renewable energy alternatives for producing power in the U.P.
J.R. Richardson, right, stands with his friend and guide Dorian Thompson in the Copper River in Alaska as they show off an Arctic char they landed. (Photo courtesy of J.R. Richardson)
"It's a passion. I love the outdoors. I was in a position when I worked at the paper mill and also with TRAXYS and now with the DNR, we could do projects that give back a little bit," Richardson said. "Most of the people who live in the U.P. have a lot of passion for the outdoors, obviously. So if you get that energy focused in the right direction, it's a good thing."
Richardson said, as chairman of the NRC, he's hoping to focus that energy on supporting tourism, boating, trails, camping, the renewable timber-based industry and even mining.
And Richardson has had plenty of experience in the ways of running an eco-friendly industrial enterprise.
While working in the forest products industry, Richardson was a leader in developing safe, profitable, environmentally friendly processes and procedures. He directed the development of an environmental management system that led the way to the state of Michigan's Clean Corporate Citizen designation for the Ontonagon paper mill.
"We took our complete environmental system, anything from air quality to water quality to landfill, and put that all into a managed system that you could run off the computer," Richardson said. "At the time, it was right when hyperlinks and all the good stuff were just coming in. I was fortunate to have a secretary that was very good at it, and an intern that was very good at it, and we hooked all that up to develop a management system. So, you could sit at your desk and pull up all your permits and your inspections and based on that, we were designated a Clean Corporate Citizen by the MDEQ."
The Ontonagon paper mill became the first mill in the state and only the fourth in the industry overall to receive the designation.
Under Richardson's leadership, the mill also attained a longevity award from the Clean Corporate Citizen program in 2004 and three Neighborhood Environmental Partnership designations.
Richardson also received the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Partner in Conservation Award in 1993 based on his work with local sportsmen's groups on habitat rehabilitation and fish plants, along with managing an award-winning wastewater treatment plant.
Richardson said this dedication to environmental preservation stems from a childhood spent outdoors. He said maintaining free and open access to Michigan's wilder areas is vitally important for the state.
"I was born and raised where there were no 'No Trespassing' signs," Richardson said. "We got to go around and enjoy nature when it was, where it was and how it was. I think it's important to have access to where there's not a lot of 'No Trespassing' signs and it's open to the people of the public to enjoy, and it's a good place for people to go out and relax and truly get back to nature."
Committed to working with public and private land owners to help keep Michigan's outdoors accessible to the public at large, Richardson said one of his biggest goals as the NRC chairman is get more people outside, enjoying nature.
"I've liked to go backpacking ever since I was 10 years old. We've gone up to Mirror Lake in the Porcupine Mountains, brook trout fishing," Richardson said. "I like to see people have access to and enjoy what we have, and work with large private land owners and the state and federal groups to make sure we have adequate utilization ...
"Our state needs a spokesperson, and my goal in life is to get a Tom Izzo or a Kid Rock or a Madonna, somebody that speaks and try to get a wide variety of people to say, 'Hey, there's Michigan. They got a lot of great lakes and streams and woods and rivers, and the Porcupine Mountains and Lake of the Clouds,' sell it in that way because I think we have unlimited potential for the natural resources that we have."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.