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MDEQ and MDNR merge

According to state officials, the creation of a new Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) will take effect on January 17, 2010. The department’s mission will be a familiar one to our state government family:  To conserve, manage, protect and promote Michigan’s natural resources, environment and related economic interests for current and future generations. This includes implementing an ecosystem-based strategy for resource management, effectively using natural resources in a sustainable manner, and providing for continuous improvements in Michigan’s air, water and soils while facilitating and encouraging economic growth.

Here are some proposed changes.

Natural Resources Commission. The Commission of Natural Resources will be transferred, intact, to the new DNRE but will be renamed the Natural Resources Commission (NRC).  Commission members will continue to serve through the end of their existing terms, and vacancies will continue to be filled by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The NRC will retain existing authority to regulate the taking of game, establish periods of validity for hunting and fishing licenses, and regulate the feeding of deer and elk, without review by or appeal to, the DNRE director. The NRC will also assume functions currently performed by the Citizens Committee for Michigan State Parks and the Water Resources Conservation Advisory Council to further reduce administrative overhead. However, the governor, not the commission, will appoint the department director.

Trails Advisory Council. A seven-member Trails Advisory Council will be established under the executive order, and the functions of the existing Snowmobile Advisory Council and Michigan Trailways Advisory Council, which are being abolished under the order, will be given to this council.  The Michigan Trails Advisory Council will focus on the creation, development, operation, and maintenance of snowmobile, equestrian, hiking, skiing, and off-road vehicle trails.

Environmental Science Board.  The director of the DNRE will be authorized to convene a seven-member Environmental Science Review Board (ESRB) to advise the DNRE on scientific issues affecting the protection and management of Michigan’s environment and natural resources.  The ESRB will be comprised of individuals with expertise in biological sciences, chemistry, ecological science, geology, risk assessment, and other related disciplines.  The Site Review Board process under Part 111 of the NREPA is being eliminated for greater efficiency in environmental proceedings.

Agriculture. The executive order also impacts the Michigan Department of Agriculture by giving the governor responsibility for appointing the Agriculture director, a responsibility that is currently held by the Agriculture Commission.  The Office of Racing Commissioner will be transferred to the Michigan Gaming Control Board and the Racing Commissioner’s position will be abolished.  The executive director of the control board will assume the commissioner’s duties.  Several boards and commissions within the Department of Agriculture are also being abolished.

The Governor is appointing Bruce Rasher to serve as transition manager to implement the order and begin building the new department with our help.  Bruce has a degree in fisheries and wildlife management from Michigan State University and worked for many years at Consumers Energy, where he was actively engaged in issues related to brownfield redevelopment, energy efficiency and environmental management.  He served as mayor of the city of Marshall from 1995 to 1998.