By MATT FURST
Capital News Service
LANSING — Gov. John Engler may soon place an ad in the classifieds. It would read: Timber investor wanted to help purchase 390,000 acres of undeveloped land across the Upper Peninsula.
Anyway, the governor and the Michigan Chapter of the Nature Conservancy announced a plan Thursday to acquire and protect the land that stretches across nine counties, includes 130 undeveloped lakes and 20 miles of rivers. The initiative would require a partnership between the Nature Conservancy, state and federal governments and a timber investor to purchase the lands estimated to be worth $150 million.
The governor hasn’t found the investor yet, though. At a time when most timber companies are selling off lands, it may seem strange that a company would want to buy so much land, but Engler thinks differently.
“We’re sure that someone will want to be a part of this because we’re going to be successful,” Engler said.
Nature Conservancy State Director Helen Taylor said that she also thought that a timber investor wouldn’t be hard to find.
“This is a great deal for everyone,” Taylor said.
The investor would be able to take a federal income tax deduction for the value of the interest in the land give to charity, Taylor said. That’s the main reason that an investor would truly be interested at this time, she said.
“It would reduce the investor’s cost significantly,” Taylor said.
The partnership model has worked in states such as New York and New Hampshire, Engler said. “This type of public-private partnership is in the best interest of Michigan citizens, who believe the protection of U.P. land, water, wildlife and other natural resources is paramount, along with thriving timber and tourism industries,” Engler said.
“We’ve seen this type of public-private partnership work very well,” agreed David Brakhage, Ducks Unlimited regional biological supervisor for the Great Lakes region. “These types of partnerships have saved a lot of wetlands.”
Taylor said that the piece of land the Nature Conservancy hopes to acquire is 42,000 acres of the Big-Two Hearted River and watershed.
“It’s a very diverse piece of land and it connects other pieces of valuable property,” Taylor said. Tom Myers, president of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, said he strongly supports the plan.
“We’re in favor of this 100 percent, ” Myers said. “If a someone bought the land for their own personal uses it could disrupt up to half the snowmobile trails in the U.P.”
The owner of the land is hoping to sell it by early 2003, so the partnership must form quickly, Engler said.
“We can’t afford not to do this,” Engler said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By MATT FURST