Townships, groups oppose DNR, National Guard MOU
Thu, 05/18/2023 - 8:49am caleb
Beaver Creek and others not in favor of military use of ‘up to 52,000 acres of eligible land’ via ‘limited land use permits’
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently announced that it had “declined a proposed 20-year lease of approximately 162,000 acres of state forest land to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs” intended for Camp Grayling cyber training, but the DNR also announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing the DMVA “to apply for limited land use permits to conduct exercises on up to 52,000 acres of eligible land,” and some local governments and conservation groups are not in favor of the arrangement.
According to the MOU, the purpose of the agreement is to “establish terms by which DMVA and/or the Michigan National Guard will apply for state land use permits for the limited, narrowly tailored use of tax reverted State land by the Michigan National Guard for the purpose of conducting training exercises related to Camp Grayling” and “provide for the protection of Michigan’s natural resources and for the continued recreational or other legal use of State land by members of the public and citizens of Michigan’s federally recognized Tribes, including during any State or Tribal hunting seasons.”
“DMVA and the Michigan National Guard have requested access to additional State land for the purpose of conducting training exercises related to Camp Grayling. The purpose of these exercises is to conduct training focused on cyber and electronic warfare over distances with smaller, dispersed groups of National Guard members,” according to the MOU. “For any Camp Grayling training events intended to be conducted on State land beyond the Camp Grayling borders, DMVA and/or the Michigan National Guard will apply to DNR for State land use permits. These applications will designate specific periods of time and locations for access to conduct training exercises. All land use permits will be processed and issued in accordance with DNR’s authority under (the Environmental Protection Act).”
“The permits and military training exercises described in this MOU will be limited to a maximum of approximately 52,000 acres of tax-reverted State land. All areas covered by any land use permit described in this MOU will remain open to legal public and Tribal use during the time periods covered by any such permit, including during any military training exercises conducted,” according to the MOU. “The land use permits described in this MOU will not allow military training exercises to take place in any protected or sensitive habitat areas, or within 3,000 feet of any inland lakes or designated trout streams. DMVA and/or the Michigan National Guard will maintain the State land at issue, including any roads or trails, in the condition they existed in prior to the military training exercise. DMVA and/or the Michigan National Guard will continue public service announcements related to permitted activities through existing military protocols.”
The Memorandum of Understanding says the “purpose of the land use permits” is to allow “small formation activity involving less than 500 National Guard members and up to 100 affiliated partner members; controlled trials of cyber and electronic warfare technologies; low impact or light maneuver training.”
Activities not permitted under the MOU include: “Live fire or any similar kinetic activity; Use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foam material or any similar or other material known to contain harmful pollutants, including PFAS; Activity within 3,000 feet of any inland lakes or designated trout streams; Use of tanks; Erection of fencing or any permanent structure; Violent, loud, or disorderly conduct; Activity that results in significant damage to vegetation; Storage of watercraft or other vehicles beyond designated permitted period; Use of any loudspeaker, PA system, or similar equipment.”
The Beaver Creek Township Board unanimously approved “Resolution To Oppose The Camp Grayling Use Of State Lands By Permit” on May 10.
“The Guard is still dangerously vague about the planned activities they will be conducting and the potential for adverse efforts and the lands, wetlands and wildlife, and that there is no provision in the MOU for an environmental impact statement or even an environmental assessment, which should be done on the entire acreage before any permit is applied for or issued,” according to the Beaver Creek resolution. “The Michigan National Guard has yet to demonstrate that they cannot conduct these military uses on their existing 230 square miles.”
“The ‘access’ by the public to these lands, as described in the MOU, is a fallacy because operations and maneuvers by as many as 600 soldiers and partners will interfere (with) access by others. The supposed restrictions on uses by the Guard are fallacies, because there is no mechanism for the DNR to track violations of these restrictions, no mechanism for people to report violations, no mechanism or obligation of the Guard to remedy violations, and there are no repercussions, including no potential for the termination of the MOU when the Guard violates any of the restrictions meant to protect these lands and allow continued public use,” according to the Beaver Creek resolution.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding, “The authorized representatives responsible for carrying out the provisions of this MOU are” the DNR’s Unit Manager for the Grayling Forest Management Unit and a representative of the DMVA/Michigan Army National Guard.
“DNR and DMVA assume no liability for any actions or activities conducted under this MOU, except to the extent that recourse or remedies are provided by federal or state law. All activities will be conducted in accordance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, rules, and regulations. This MOU will be in effect from the date of execution for five (5) years unless it is terminated as set forth below. It may be extended for five-year additional increments upon the mutual agreement of the Departments and upon the execution of written amendments to this MOU by DNR and DMVA. This MOU may be modified upon the mutual agreement of DNR and DMVA and upon execution of a written amendment signed by both Departments. DNR or DMVA may terminate this MOU at any time upon prior written notice to the other Department,” according to the Memorandum of Understanding.
“The Beaver Creek Township Board opposes the MOU and allowing these military uses of state lands by permits to be issued to the Guard” and the board asks the “Governor and the DNR Director to immediately terminate the Memorandum of Understanding as provided for in that contract,” according to the May 10 Beaver Creek resolution.
Beaver Creek Township Supervisor Dan Bonamie presented copies of the resolution to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners during a regular meeting of the commissioners on Thursday, May 11, and he asked the county board to consider adopting a similar resolution. Bonamie said the agreement through the MOU doesn’t allow adequate public input and “standing up as a group” is the only way to have an impact.
“We really need to hold them accountable,” Bonamie said.
The “52,000 acres of eligible land” includes areas in Crawford County, Otsego County, Kalkaska County, Missaukee County, Roscommon County, and Oscoda County. (A link to the map is available at https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/managing-resources/public-land/camp-graylin....)
Jim Knight, Bear Lake Township Trustee (Kalkaska County), said the DNR’s decision with regard to the Memorandum of Understanding is “very disappointing.”
“We were under this ridiculous, glutinous proposed ask of 162,000 acres, that what we were told is a ‘need.’ Now, ‘making do’ with 52,000 acres. It wasn’t a need after all,” Knight said. “There is no provision for an environmental impact assessment. Nothing about endangered species evaluation. Or to questions (the DNR) can’t seem to answer. We have little or no input or answers to our questions. Until the communication between the DNR, or the DMVA, dramatically gets better, this will never be over. The constituents in Bear Lake Township, emphatically, do not want to be in a military weapons testing area.”
Some conservation groups have publicly opposed the contents of the MOU.
“The ‘rejection’ by the DNR is misleading. Essentially, the DNR approved an expansion albeit not the 162,000 acres initially proposed, but one that encompasses 52,000 (acres),” according to the Au Sable River Property Owners Alliance. “Thus, Camp Grayling gets what it wanted – a completely unjustified larger footprint – over the strong, justified objections of the citizens who live, recreate and vacation in the area. Over 60 governmental agencies, tribal governments, EGLE, environmental, sports, and citizen groups have strongly opposed any new land additions.”
“Camp Grayling is located in the heart of two of the most iconic fragile watersheds in Michigan, Au Sable and Manistee, and with expansion, Muskegon. These watersheds are recognized worldwide. Any expansion of military activities is incompatible with maintaining the health of these watersheds and the enjoyment of these natural resources by citizens,” according to the Au Sable River Property Owners Alliance. “We are strongly opposed to the MOU and argue that not one additional acre for training is needed. We are disappointed and puzzled as to why Governor Whitmer and the MDNR have approved the use of additional public lands for training in light of the lack of justification and the unusually strong and unusually unified public opposition. The MOU has a termination clause, and we strongly urge these public servants to use this clause to stop any use of public lands outside the current Camp Grayling boundaries.”
Anglers of the Au Sable recently announced that it was “pleased that the Department of Natural Resources has rejected a proposal to nearly double the size of Camp Grayling, but remains concerned about” the access granted to 52,000 acres via permits for “electronic warfare training.”
“We continue to be opposed to the expansion of Camp Grayling, by any method,” said Joe Hemming, President of Anglers of the Au Sable. “We support our military, but have serious questions about the department’s authority to issue a permit and the need for additional property for its electromagnetic warfare training. The Guard needs to improve its operations and relationships with local governments before it gets access to even more state property.”
“The Guard has never explained why the 230 square miles it already controls is insufficient for the training it wishes to conduct. While the MOU prohibits use of PFAS or related compounds on the additional land, it does not address the Guard’s foot dragging in cleaning up the contamination it has already caused that has limited public use of Lake Margrethe – a headwater of the Au Sable and Manistee rivers – and property in the Grayling area. Anglers also is concerned about the impact of electromagnetic warfare training on the local ecology. The Au Sable and Manistee are unique natural resources that draw anglers from around the world for dry fly fishing. That fishery is heavily reliant on mayflies and other insects that use the unusual environment of the rivers, headwaters, and wetlands that surround the river. The Guard has not signaled any intent to do any studies to show the impact of its use of electromagnetic signals in training on the insects, birds, mammals, and fish in the affected area,” according to Anglers of the Au Sable.
Acting DNR Director Shannon Lott said the department received a lot of public input on the original request for 162,000 acres of additional land for Camp Grayling training and “public concerns and feedback from Tribal governments, coupled with our own review of the proposal, led us to decide against a 20-year lease on such a significant portion of state-managed land.”
According to the DNR, “People who want to legally use the land for hunting, fishing, camping, or other recreational pursuits would continue to be allowed, without restriction, on land in use by the Michigan National Guard under a land use permit.”
Through an April 28 press release from the Michigan National Guard, Col. Scott Meyers, Camp Grayling Commander, said that “while the MOU’s framework doesn’t meet the full vision of our original request, we believe it still provides distance and area required for some low-impact training that will help our service members stay safe and successful on a modern battlefield.”
“For us, this is all about taking care of our service members who have made the commitment to put their lives on the line in support of our national security,” Col. Meyers said. “We can do that and honor Michigan’s environment. Ultimately, the National Guard is here to serve and defend the homeland that the citizens of our state and nation hold dear. We have heard the concerns offered by many private individuals and groups, as well as from several federally recognized Tribes, and are taking them into account. We will strive to uphold both these commitments: to offer the readiest combat force possible, and to serve the people of our state responsibly and with gratitude for all they do to support us.”