Thursday, June 23, 2011

I get a campsite, you get Pure Michigan NASCAR and everybody's happy

Seemed reasonable at the time!
There are eight rustic camp sites, first come, first served.

There were three left when we got there, and we got site #2. It wasn’t one of the lakefront spots, but it was nestled back in the woods far enough so that … at night with a fire crackling, unobstructed stars overhead and a couple of Bellaire Browns it seemed like we were the only ones in the county. 

Where? Oh hell no. I’m not about to tell you. But with a little detective work on the DNR’s web site you shouldn’t have a problem figuring it out.

Our campground was a couple hours from Lansing, and a couple hours from magnificent Torch Lake where we spent the day Saturday with family. That night, again, we were the only ones in the world. In the morning, we drank camp coffee and a breakfast of soy sausages and homemade pesto (it seemed sensible at the time).

After a three mile walk in the woods interspersed with magnificent meadows of sun-dappled chest high grasses, we were home in time to watch the Tigers and entertain more family. Maybe I took a nap too.

It was a little slice of Michigan living. But it may not so for long. Fifteen dollars a night, times eight campsites, generates $120 … not nearly enough to cover the expenses of trash removal, outhouse and fire pit maintenance, road grading, administrative matters, tree trimming and securing the picnic table to the ground with a braided metal cable the thickness of a child’s wrist.

That leaves taxpayers on the hook. Many never use a rustic state campground, and never intend to. Many of our friends and neighbors don’t believe their tax dollars should be used to supplement the campgrounds' user fees. In fact, many were on the verge of closing this year for lack of funding, until DNR Director Rodney Stokes found a way to limp along in 2011.

So why should taxpayers who never use the rustic campgrounds be willing to fund them?

Because it is that sort of opportunity -- and thousands like it and very much unlike it – that makes people want to live, work and play in this state. It’s not very quantifiable, like tax rates and safe streets and availability to public transportation are. But it’s real, and it shows up consistently on surveys nationwide about what attracts people to live where they do.

So as legislators – many of them indoctrinated in the drown government in a bathtub cult prepare to slash away at many of the opportunities that makes our state so unique, we need a robust discussion. Not just about closing a few dozen rustic campgrounds. But about what sort of opportunities we can capitalize on here to create the Michigan we all want.

In that mix, I vote for some tax money to maintain the rustic campgrounds. In fairness, I’ll agree to use state money on something I have no interest in, like NASCAR races.

Iit’ll cost a lot less than $972k to maintain a fire pit. And while you’re at the race, I’ll be putting another log on.

If you feel like contacting your legislator you might tell them you’re glad the state’s rustic state forest campgrounds remained open this year, and that you expect him/her to work to maintain adequate funding for the state’s DNR to operate them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Environmental funders reassess climate change tactics: First base starting to look pretty good now

Oops, wrong first base photo!
Shortly after joining the Michigan Environmental Council in 2006, I became aware of an obscure public notice in the Federal Register soliciting comments on a plan for the U.S. Coast Guard to begin live ammunition training exercises with .50 caliber machine guns in 34 areas of the Great Lakes.

I tipped some journalists to the story, lighting the fuse for a maelstrom of protest that forced the Coast Guard to re-evaluate its plans. For a couple months, I invested a fair amount of time into helping spread public awareness of a plan that heretofore had been very, VERY quietly pursued.

At one point, a longtime veteran of the environmental movement asked, “so, who’s funding you for this?” When I replied no one was, she appeared befuddled, and perhaps a little put off.  It had not occurred to me that my work priorities should be dictated by funders. The most important work should get the most attention, right? Not necessarily.

As  this interesting article from Politico points out, the donors who fund environmental work call the shots … to a certain extent. And they are not happy about the results they’ve gotten from the money they’ve poured into addressing climate change during the past several years.

Federal Cap and Trade legislation that would have begun to address the issue crashed and burned. Amid the wreckage, environmental groups are regrouping to try and accomplish change on a piece by piece basis – fighting for better building efficiency standards, and stopping new coal plants, and investing in public transportation.

If this seems like a half-assed way to deal with the planet’s most important issue, it is. But it’s what we have. As the aforementioned Politico article notes, the environmental community has neither sufficent power to punish do-nothing politicians, nor the clout to reward the good ones.

Without that power – or a groundswell of public demand for action – there is little hope of the sweeping change that many of us would like to see.

Does that mean we don’t need visionaries laying out idealistic plans? No. But it means most of us need to hunker down and work for incremental change if we’re going to have something to show for it at the end of the day.

As President Obama’s Advisor Rahm Emanuel told an environmental funder, “Your DNA and my DNA are so different. I’m about trying to get to first base. You’re about trying to hit it over the fence.”

First base might sound like a crappy place to be when you’re so far behind.

But it beats striking out. And it might get funded.