This week, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh is considering staff recommendations to approve a $2.5 million Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund land purchase of roughly 2,200 acres in Alger County, which has been in development for more than five years.
The acquisition of Upper Peninsula Power Co. and U.P. Hydro property associated with the AuTrain Basin Waterfowl Refuge is on the agenda of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission's meeting Thursday in Saginaw.
We think Creagh should approve the recommendations and finalize the acquisition. This is a tremendous opportunity for Alger County and the central Upper Peninsula.
In 2007, $1.25 million was approved from the trust fund for an initial purchase phase with another $1.25 million allocated from the fund in 2010. The project would acquire high-priority lands in the Au Train Basin Waterfowl Refuge and other associated lands for the purpose of wildlife habitat protection and public recreation.
The lands including the refuge around the basin are very popular with the public for fishing, hunting, boating, camping and other activities.
Doug Scheuneman, president of the Alger County Fish and Game Alliance, said the group strongly supports the land purchase, as it had from the beginning.
"Our organization was instrumental in promoting this purchase through a grant from our Natural Resources Trust Fund," Scheuneman said. "It is important for sportsmen and women not only in Alger County, but in other regions of the Upper Peninsula, to see that the waterfowl refuge, that was established in the '70s, continue to provide protection not only for ducks and geese, but for other bird species that migrate through this area of Alger County."
The DNR has been leasing the refuge land from UPPCO to conserve habitat for waterfowl and other species.
"If the Michigan DNR does not purchase this land it could then fall into private hands, be developed and the refuge would then no longer exist," Scheuneman said.
In a recommendation from DNR division chiefs to Creagh that the acquisition be approved, the chiefs detailed several characteristics which collectively make the properties "priority acquisitions" for the department.
Those characteristics included gaining ownership of U.P. Hydro land that the DNR has leased from landowners for many years for the management of the Forest Lake State Forest Campground, located on the west side of the basin.
The property is accessible by roads already existing and shares borders with other public lands.
With approvals already gained from locals, the trust fund board, state legislature and DNR division chiefs, we think Director Creagh should take another positive step and put his signature on the recommendation this week.