Nature Conservancy discusses proposed land acquisition at public meeting

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Planning Consultant John A. Mulinaro, of RES Associates, who is working with The Nature Conservancy of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, is the primary speaker at a public meeting Tuesday evening that addressed the proposal of acquiring more than 32,000 acres of forest land in eastern Keweenaw County with the purpose of keeping the majority of it open to public access.

CALUMET — Tuesday’s public meeting regarding the purchase of 32,000 acres of timberland in Keweenaw County by The Nature Conservancy covered several significant topics of concern for many people.

Consultant John Mulinaro was hired by the TNC and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with assistance from the Keweenaw Forest Land and Conservation Project.

The presentation addressed what Mulinaro described as the unique opportunity of the communities of the upper portion of the Keweenaw Peninsula to purchase approximately 32,600 acres of timberland currently on the market as a single parcel by its owner, The Rohatyn Group. The management group values the land at $43 million.

From the perspective of TNC and the DNR, a sense of urgency in purchasing the property stems from changes in the structure of the forest products industry that have made the lands less inviting to timber investors. TRG so far has been unsuccessful in attempts to sell the lands to the state, or swap them for other lands owned by the state that would serve as better investments for forest products production. The DNR is not able to purchase the land as one parcel because it lacks the money in its budget to acquire the entire 32,000 acres. TRG, which is a hedge fund company, has placed the property on the open market.

At the same time, TNC currently maintains other properties in Keweenaw County and has no desire to own the timberland permanently.

However, Helen Taylor, state director of The Nature Conservancy of Michigan, pointed out at the meeting that TNC is willing to help broker a deal with a future entity to manage the site, whether that ends up as the county, townships or a nonprofit. The reason is simple: to keep the land accessible to the public.

The biggest risk to public access on this land is fragmentation, Taylor said. There is a major risk that if the land is sold into private ownership, much of it will be purchased for seasonal homes and hunting camps, permitting no public access or easement and limiting public use. Trail systems may be forced to reroute or be removed entirely, and local residents and tourists could lose access to land.

Mulinaro said that TNC and the DNR hope to have the planning completed by the end of this year.

“But that doesn’t mean that every little detail will be planned out by the end of this year,” he said.

For instance, the groups may not, by then, have a comprehensive list of every area that needs a primitive campsite or every place that has an endangered species that must be restricted from human access.

“But our hope is that the entity — and I say entity because it could be something governmental, or it could be something nonprofit that ends up owning and holding the … bulk of the land for the long term — it is our hope that that entity will continue to engage with the public about the real nitty-gritty details, which is most often what people really care most about,” Mulinaro said.

This is part of a series that will examine in detail the meeting for the proposed property acquisition.


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