The Michigan Resource Stewards is an organization of retired professional employees of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department o Environmental Quality. When gathered in a meeting room there is more expertise than can be found anywhere.
The following article is a portion of an email sent to members. Politics rears its ugly head from time to time and some politicians think there is too much public land and wants to dispose of it. Who is going to buy our land? The rich and influential of course. The Resource Stewards are working on a paper that defines the value of public land beside the dollar per acre.
Steve Cunningham is a retired DEQ supervisor. I have a great deal of respect for Steve who during his career spoke out in favor of our natural resources many times.
As I have stated in a few of our meetings, many of the values of public land cannot be measured by market prices. As Bill points out, social, mental health, and community values are all non-market values that are difficult to quantify. And as Greg has pointed out, those values are always in flux. I would argue for the majority of our public land, that is, that land that we have all come to know and love as our “Commons,” it is a mistake to try. The minute we say that we think we know what the dollar value of a piece of land is worth, we have just declared that that land is now for sale. All of us, even those politicians who would like to sell our “Commons,” own things that we consider price-less, our health, our family members, even a few material things. I mentioned at one of our meetings my dad’s old 12 gauge double barrel as something that is priceless to me. Yet, all of those things can be bought and sold in cultures and societies who have lost their footings. For me, public land is priceless, without price. And, I am not alone.
One of the reasons this debate is taking place is that as Americans, as Michiganders we have lost our footing when it comes to the basic understanding of what it means to be in charge of the King’s deer and what a unique and special treasure that is, truly priceless. It is an American ideal that the people own the government’s (the King’s) land and its wildlife. A few countries have tried to copy the concept but it is truly American and we are alone in that greatness. The sheer size and quality of land that is open to the public is among the middle class in this country where in other developed countries it has become the sport of the elite. And, public land is the only hope for that heritage to continue. The tragedy of our Commons is that we have become complacent in our land wealth and that we no longer speak with one voice. Of the eastern states, Michigan is a prime example.
An unfortunate chasm has been eroded into the American culture. One that divides the environmental community from the hunting and fishing community. While this is slowly changing, all of the users of our “Commons” both consumptive and non-consumptive, do not speak with a single voice. This is where much can be done. We must bring awareness to the unique treasure that is our Public Land. If need be, we should point out that economic models of wildland appreciate while economic models of developed land depreciate. But above all, we should remind everyone, especially our politicians, that Michigan is not Michigan without vast tracts of land open to the public on which to chase the King’s deer and catch his fish.