DNR to offer alternative to lease for Camp Grayling cyber training?

DNR director tells legislators the department is ‘looking at other ways’ to provide areas for training and 162,000 acres are not needed
The acting director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources – in response to a state representative’s question about the proposed Camp Grayling training area expansion during a recent meeting in Lansing – said “statute does not allow” the DNR to “lease land like it did in 1941” but the department is looking at “other ways” to allow the military to conduct cyber training.
“The DNR is reviewing a proposal for the expansion of DNR-leased lands available for low-impact Camp Grayling military training activities,” according to the DNR’s current “Camp Grayling lease update proposal” website. “The proposal for approximately 162,000 acres of land around the camp is part of a desired update to accommodate evolving training methods.”
During a meeting of the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Natural Resources in Lansing on February 28, Shannon Lott, Acting Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offered a fiscal year 2023-2024 budget presentation to the committee. Director Lott fielded questions after the presentation, and State Rep. Ken Borton (District 105) asked about the proposed expansion of Camp Grayling training areas. (District 105 includes Crawford County.)
“My question comes from a major issue in my area. I cover the Grayling, Gaylord, Roscommon area, and as you know, the big issue right now there that the people are very concerned about is the expansion of Camp Grayling,” Rep. Borton said. “The proposal is to increase it by tens of thousands of acres, affecting natural resources in the area, affecting extremely protected area of the Manistee River headwaters, the Deward tract, that area. My constituents obviously they’ve reached out to you, they’ve reached out to me, you received, I know, hundreds of emails. I have also. I have also received approaching 50 resolutions from cities, townships, villages, other organizations adamantly against this, and I’m just wondering, are you in favor of the expansion?”
“So you’ll see something hopefully within the next week and a half here. I’m working with the governor’s office on a release for this,” Director Lott said. “But I will tell you that statute does not allow us to lease land like we did in 1941, so we are looking at other ways to help them do some of the training exercises that they need to do.”
“We all want to protect our resource there. All of us do, as well as obviously in the agency, so I’ve met with General (Paul) Rogers on some of the exact needs that he has for some of the cyber training they’ve talked about,” Director Lott said. “And, of course, I’ve gotten thousands of emails, and we fish there too, we use that area too, so that will all remain open to everybody in that area.”
“We’ve been very clear about conversations about cyber testing, making sure that’s really the only thing that they need, and there’s only a few days a year where they really need to do that,” Director Lott said. “So we’re going to winnow it down to some of those really specific times they need to do that, and they don’t need 162,000 acres to do that.”
“We’re almost there with coming out publicly with what that’ll look like moving ahead,” Director Lott said.
(The entire February 28 Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Natural Resources meeting can be viewed via https://house.mi.gov/VideoArchive.)
As of Monday, March 27, the DNR’s “Camp Grayling lease update proposal” website still contained numerous references to “lease” of land, including in the title of the page.
“The DNR is reviewing a proposal for the expansion of DNR-leased lands. Access to portions of the training area could occasionally be restricted for public safety to accommodate military training exercises, as is typical for currently leased lands. The military has leased lands for training from the state of Michigan since 1935,” according to the site.
The “Camp Grayling lease update proposal” page includes a link to the initial “Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center Military Land Use Expansion Proposal” FAQ (“provided to the DNR by Camp Grayling”).
In June of 2022, during a town hall informational meeting held at Kirtland Community College, DNR officials said the recommendation to the DNR director would be to consider the Camp Grayling proposal as a “short-term lease.” Lott – DNR Deputy Director at the time – attended the June 22 town hall event.
“A short-term lease is a 20-year Use Agreement between DNR and (Department of Military and Veterans Affairs) that sets the conditions and standards for use and resource management. The DNR can void the agreement at any time if the DMVA use is not consistent with the conditions and standards of the lease,” according to the initial FAQ.
An updated FAQ released after the June 22 town hall meeting (a document still available as of March 27 through the “Camp Grayling lease update proposal” page via an “FAQ about DNR review/approval process (updated Aug. 12, 2022)” link) includes the question “Why not a special use permit? Or a lease shorter than 20 years?”
“The reason for issuing a lease is based on the amount of time it would take to review the permits annually versus one review for the entire lease period. Use permits generally are only a year in duration, a time period that would not allow the military to plan for future trainings. A shorter lease term is a possibility for consideration, should the process get that far,” according to the updated FAQ.
The updated FAQ offers an explanation as to “Where does the DNR get authority to lease state lands?” and “What are the statutory requirements for granting leases?”
The updated FAQ says: “MCL 324.503(2) provides the department with broad authority. ‘The department has the power and jurisdiction over the management, control, and disposition of all land under the public domain. On behalf of the people of this state, the department may accept gifts and grants of land and other property and may buy, sell, exchange, or condemn land and other property, for any of the purposes of this part.’ Additionally, MCL 324.503(15) provides that ‘The department may lease lands owned or controlled by the department or may grant concessions on lands owned or controlled by the department to any person for any purpose that the department determines to be necessary to implement this part.’”
(Further excerpt from MCL 324.503(15): “The department shall grant each concession for a term of not more than 7 years based on extension, renegotiation, or competitive bidding. However, if the department determines that a concession requires a capital investment in which reasonable financing or amortization necessitates a longer term, the department may grant a concession for up to a 15-year term. A concession granted under this subsection shall require, unless the department authorizes otherwise, that all buildings and equipment be removed at the end of the concession’s term. Any lease entered into under this subsection shall limit the purposes for which the leased land is to be used and shall authorize the department to terminate the lease upon a finding that the land is being used for purposes other than those permitted in the lease. Unless otherwise provided by law, money received from a lease or a concession of tax reverted land shall be credited to the fund providing financial support for the management of the leased land.”)
For months, opponents of the Camp Grayling training area expansion proposal have argued that leasing land to the military for training goes against the “duties” of the DNR as stated in MCL (Michigan Compiled Laws) 324.503 (1), Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act: Act 451 of 1994.
“The department shall protect and conserve the natural resources of this state; provide and develop facilities for outdoor recreation; prevent the destruction of timber and other forest growth by fire or otherwise; promote the reforesting of forestlands belonging to this state; prevent and guard against the pollution of lakes and streams within this state and enforce all laws provided for that purpose with all authority granted by law; and foster and encourage the protection and propagation of game and fish. Before issuing an order or promulgating a rule under this act that will designate or classify land managed by the department for any purpose, the department shall consider, in addition to any other matters required by law, all of the following: (a) Providing for access to and use of the public land for recreation and tourism. (b) The existence of or potential for natural resources-based industries, including forest management, mining, or oil and gas development on the public land. (c) The potential impact of the designation or classification on private property in the immediate vicinity,” according to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (available online via http://www.legislature.mi.gov).
The “(Anglers of the AuSable) board of directors considers any DNR-driven compromise or workaround to this proposal to be outside the mission of the DNR, as well as a misuse of state lands and state resources. It would also disregard the enormous outpouring of anti-expansion sentiment from local citizens and communities. We join more than 45 local government units, including Crawford, Roscommon, Otsego, Cheboygan, and Kalkaska counties, in opposing the Guard’s expansion, along with a long list of conservation groups,” Anglers of the AuSable said in a press release in early March following the February 28 meeting of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Natural Resources.
“Anglers also has serious concerns about suggestions that the DNR would give the Guard a more limited ‘special use permit’ for access to additional land. We question whether use permits are any more valid for military training and research purposes than a lease, which the DNR has now acknowledged it cannot legally use. The DNR, by its own mission, is meant to be ‘committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations.’ The DNR is not duty-bound to the Michigan National Guard, or Camp Grayling, for the lease or permit to use any state land. There should be no workaround or ‘olive branch’ offered by the DNR toward the Guard,” according to Anglers of the AuSable.
“In recent comments to a legislative committee, Acting DNR Director Shannon Lott said the Guard had failed to show it had any need for an expansive long-term property lease, but indicated she was working with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office toward a compromise that would be revealed later. The apparent consideration of the DNR for a much smaller expansion, limited in time, demonstrates that the massive initial proposal was illegitimate. Anglers calls on the DNR to totally reject the current Guard proposal immediately. The Guard has not shown, or even attempted to show, that it cannot use Camp Grayling’s existing footprint for electromagnetic warfare training and testing,” according to Anglers of the AuSable.
(Anglers of the AuSable is a “501(c)(3) environmental conservation organization founded in Grayling, Michigan, on January 18, 1987,” according to its website.)
Other opponents of the training area expansion proposal said they also do not favor a “compromise.”
“Director Lott is either not hearing our many concerns, or she is ignoring them. This is not simply a matter of citizens being concerned about losing access to our state land, rivers, and trails. That’s only the tip of the iceberg with regard to our concerns,” said Monty Bolis representing a local opposition group called Camp Grayling Expansion. “Our core concern, and it’s the concern that Director Lott and Governor Whitmer keep attempting to gloss over and minimize, is that ‘co-using’ our state land with the military would have the effect of degrading our outdoor experience and our enjoyment of time spent on state land. That should not be a difficult concept for the DNR to understand.”
“Hunters, fisher-persons, bird watchers, mushroom and berry pickers, horse-riding enthusiasts, and people who simply want to immerse themselves in nature often do so to experience peace and solitude. For some, time spent outdoors is almost a spiritual experience. The National Guard asking to co-use our state land is analogous to a group of smokers asking to co-use space at a health club. Some activities by virtue of what they are should not be paired together,” Bolis said.
“More than 50 local governments, represented by more than 270 elected local officials have unitedly and adamantly told Governor Whitmer and Director Lott that we do not want to see Camp Grayling expanded. Our stance is, not one more acre,” Bolis said. 
What are the “other ways,” referred to by Director Lott, to allow for military cyber training on area lands, if not through a lease?
As of Monday, March 27, the DNR had not modified its “Camp Grayling lease update proposal” website, and the Crawford County Avalanche had not received a press release with regard to the issue.

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806
E-Mail: information@crawfordcountyavalanche.com

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