Sunday, August 16, 2015

Gov. Snyder, The Nature Conservancy, Michigan DNR commemorate 10-year anniversary of Big U.P. Deal in Luce County

Text and photos from Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources 

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, right in kayak, talks with canoeists in his paddling party along the Two Hearted River Wednesday, Aug. 12, in northern Luce County. (Photos courtesy Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

LUCE COUNTY, Mich. -- In January 2005, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and several partners announced the "Big U.P. Deal" that preserved roughly 423 square miles of forest land for forestry, recreation and conservation through a unique public-private partnership.

Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 12, 2015, Gov. Rick Snyder and other dignitaries, including TNC’s Michigan Director Helen Taylor and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh, marked the 10-year anniversary of the historic land deal with a ceremony at the Mouth of the Two Hearted River State Forest Campground.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, Gov. Snyder cut a ribbon on a sign detailing efforts of The Nature Conservancy and its partners to reconnect 35 miles of rivers and tributaries within the 130,000-acre Two Hearted River watershed. 

Gov. Rick Snyder uses his left-handed scissors to cut a ribbon on a new interpretive sign detailing the re-connection of the Two Hearted River. Watching, from left, are state Rep. John Kivela; state Sen. Tom Casperson; Helen Taylor, The Nature Conservancy’s Michigan state director; and Keith Creagh, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

"This monumental land deal provided key environmental protection for landmarks across the Upper Peninsula, from the Porcupine Mountains in the west to Tahquamenon Falls and the Two Hearted River in the east," Snyder said. "Michigan has set a model for responsible land management that supports healthier forests and rivers while creating more jobs and improved recreation opportunities."

Before the ceremony, Gov. Snyder, Taylor and Creagh joined others on a canoe and kayak trip down a stretch of the Two Hearted River.

Gov. Rick Snyder gets ready to begin his Two Hearted River canoe trip Wednesday, Aug. 12, with the help of Theresa Neal of Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

Along the way, the group saw some of the landscape scorched as the Duck Lake Fire raced north in May 2012, blackening 21,069 acres and claiming 136 structures at a cost estimated at $4.1 million.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s paddling party heads down the Two Hearted River in northern Luce County. Higher along the banks of the river, burnt trees from the Duck Lake Fire continue to stand.

The river is home to more than 50 fish species.

In 1919, famed author Ernest Hemingway fished for brook trout along the East Branch of the Fox River, which is located farther to the west. Afterward, Hemingway penned "Big Two-Hearted River," borrowing the name for his Nick Adams adventure from this winding river in northern Luce County, because its name had more poetry.

Gov. Snyder and the canoeists floated the river for roughly an hour, from the fish ladder north to the campground where the ceremony was held, which is located just a short distance from the Lake Superior shoreline.

Gov. Rick Snyder, in blue life vest, takes a picture as he kayaks toward a bridge over the Two Hearted River in northern Luce County Wednesday, Aug. 12.

During his visit to Michigan Tech on Thursday, Aug. 13, Gov. Snyder -- who is a strong advocate for Michigan’s developing system of water trails -- mentioned how much he enjoyed his trip down the Two Hearted River leading to the campground.*

Under the $57.9 million Northern Great Lakes Forest Project -- nicknamed the "Big U.P. Deal" -- the conservancy facilitated the DNR purchase of several conservation easements over a period of years on about 248,000 acres located throughout eight counties in the Upper Peninsula.

In addition, the deal included the purchase of 23,338 acres in the Two Hearted River watershed in northern Luce County, helping to enhance an existing conservancy nature preserve.

Gov. Rick Snyder is pulled ashore at the end of his paddle down a stretch of the Two Hearted River Wednesday, Aug. 12.

At the time the deal was announced, Snyder was serving as a member of The Nature Conservancy Michigan Board of Trustees, a position he held from 2004-2009.

Managing the conservation easements under a "working lands" approach provides several benefits to a range of interests in the region. Among them, the conservancy said the easements:
  • Keep the lands open to the public for recreation, including fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and other pursuits.
  • Protect thousands of timber and tourism jobs.
  • Keep the lands in private ownership and on the tax rolls, generating important revenue for local communities.
  • Help protect some of Michigan’s most treasured landscapes.
  • Keep valuable and environmentally sensitive forest lands habitat from fragmentation.
  • Limit development, which keeps forest lands from being converted to non-forest uses.
The easements and lands were purchased from The Forestland Group, LLC, a North Carolina timberlands investment firm, which outbid the state and bought 390,000 acres at auction in 2002 from the Kamehameha Schools Trust of Hawaii.

Much of that land had been purchased by the trust from Cliffs Forest Products more than a decade earlier.

Some of the notable features protected with the easements and land purchase include the following:
  • More than 500 miles of rivers and tributaries, with almost 200 miles of prime trout streams.
  • More than 300 lakes.
  • 52,000 acres of wetlands.
  • Thousands of acres of important buffers along federal and state park units and forests.
Taylor praised and thanked the public and private donors to the deal for their support. She also commended others, including government officials and interest groups who worked hard and cooperatively to make the ambitious project a reality.

"We always accomplish more when we work together," Taylor said.

Helen Taylor, The Nature Conservancy’s Michigan state director, talks Wednesday, Aug. 12, at a ceremony in northern Luce County commemorating the 10-year anniversary of announcement of the "Big U.P. Deal."

"The leadership of three of Michigan’s governors -- John Engler, Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder -- is unprecedented and should be applauded," Taylor added. "We were fortunate that this was truly a bipartisan effort with many legislators in both Washington, D.C., and Lansing who supported this project along with staff at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, The Forestland Group, LLC, and within the conservancy."

Taylor said she especially wanted to recognize the conservancy’s local partners, including Luce County and the Luce County Road Commission, McMillan Township, the Central Superior Watershed Partnership and the East Branch Sportsman’s Club.

Taylor also acknowledged local contractors and businesses that have worked to complete many of the conservancy’s improvement projects and the loggers and mills that buy its forest products.

During the Aug. 12 celebration, Gov. Rick Snyder, left, listens as Jeff Knoop, The Nature Conservancy’s Upper Peninsula director of land protection, talks about the Duck Lake Fire.

Some of the biggest donor contributions to the project’s land and easement purchases included $10 million from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, $5 million each from the Kresge Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and $4.5 million from the Herbert H. and Grace Dow Foundation.

Among the additional donors to the land project was the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund -- administered through the DNR -- which contributed a total of $16.1 million over a five-year period, beginning in 2002.

"This project represents a great use of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to leverage local partnerships and assure access, recreation and forestry on Michigan lands," DNR Director Creagh said. "This deal ensures generations to come will be able to celebrate Michigan’s world-class natural resources, and U.P. residents will continue to benefit from the jobs these lands provide."

Over the past 39 years, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has granted more than $1 billion to state and local units of government to develop and improve recreation opportunities in Michigan.

Nearly $10 million was also contributed in federal funding through the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, which is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Twenty-three re-engineering projects were undertaken to remove obstructions, stabilize stream banks and make other improvements, reducing the estimated sediment load into Michigan’s only designated "wilderness river" by 626 tons each year.

The Nature Conservancy’s interpretive "Reconnecting the Two Hearted River" sign will be erected along the CCI Road, a few miles to the west, just north of Pine Stump Junction.

* Editor's Note: See our Aug. 13, 2015, article, "Video preview: Gov. Snyder visits Michigan Tech's GLRC."

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