Back at the helm of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after a demanding tenure leading the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Director Keith Creagh and Kirk Heinze resumed their annual conversation on a variety of salient natural resources-related topics. And as our conversation unfolded, I got the distinct impression he is very pleased to be back ‘home’ at the DNR.
A new initiative Creagh is especially excited about is “wetland mitigation banking.”
“Wetlands help filter out many of the nutrients and contaminants in our water. It’s extremely important to have highly-functional and high-value wetlands in Michigan. So, we’re partnering with the townships and counties such that as they start improving their infrastructure, we’re going to use public lands as a wetlands mitigation bank. This is an opportunity for public land to provide a solution to taxpayers.”
Creagh says he, like most Michiganders, is gravely concerned about potential federal cuts to programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“To fail to pay attention to the Great Lakes from a regional perspective is very concerning and problematic. If you look across the country, whether it’s Chesapeake Bay or the Everglades, whenever there’s a unique ecosystem and a system that benefits a region, there should be some federal investment.”
Creagh views the health and well-being of the Great Lakes as a “non-partisan issue,” and he is confident that GLRI funding will be continued.
One serious, on-going problem GLRI money helps address is ecosystem damage occasioned by invasive species—animal and plant. Creagh says we should not tolerate Asian carp in the Great Lakes, “pure and simple.” And he says there are a couple straightforward ways that responsible vacationers and boaters can be helpful this coming season.
“One is not transporting invasive weeds around the Great Lakes. And boaters can regularly purge and dry their bilges to make sure that they are not taking water from one boat landing to another. Make sure it’s really clean, dry, and then reuse.”
Creagh next explains the value and importance of the constitutionally-protected Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund “to make sure we have high-value recreational opportunities” in Michigan. The fund really has its “eye on the future, and that’s what’s unique about it. It has a long term view because we’re in this for the long haul.”
Creagh is concerned about recently introduced legislation in the Michigan Senate (SB 280)—a bill which would erode the trust fund board’s decision-making authority on project funding. The nonpartisan board has a long history of autonomy and trustworthiness, and Creagh believes that independence is constitutionally protected.
As an avid hunter and fisherman, Director Creagh thoroughly enjoys the wildlife management dimension of his duties. He adds that our wildlife is facing some significant challenges, like chronic wasting disease. “And that’s a tough one that we’ll be focusing on. We need the support from hunters around the state. And I think you’ll see us proposing some rule changes, like perhaps not being able to import carcasses from any state outside of Michigan.”
Creagh cites the reintroduction of turkeys into Michigan as one recent, success story. “How do you manage wildlife so that it’s healthy, and then how do you make sure that we work with high-end researchers to maintain that health of the herd.
“That’s where I really appreciate the voters’ support. They supported scientific game management, and they compel us to make sure we get our science right. And that’s the right way to manage wildlife.”
Creagh is also a member of the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board. He characterizes Enbridge’s Line 5 under the Straits of Mackinac as “complex question and issue.
“The primary reason we have a pipeline under the Straits is that it took tankers off the Great Lakes. No one wants an oil spill in the Great Lakes; that’s unacceptable. That would have long term implications and so one of the questions is what are the alternatives? Are there other ways other than the pipeline underneath the Straits to deliver product throughout the state? And what are the risks?
“The risks and the alternatives need to come together to help us figure out what’s the best path forward.”
Two highly anticipated, independent studies—one on risks and one on alternatives—are due in June. Creagh’s reaction to those findings will be among several we will be seeking in subsequent interviews.
We concluded our conversation with an unabashed plug for the highly successful Michigan Recreation Passport program. “The best deal in town. Eleven dollars [per year] gets you into all the state parks, but it does more. It really supports natural resources as a way of life and our heritage in the state of Michigan.”
Greening of the Great Lakes airs inside MSU Today Sunday afternoons at 4:00 on 94.5 FM and AM 870.