Possible Law Requiring Nonprofit Land Conservancies to Pay Property Taxes is a Bad idea
On August 23, 2012 MLive reported that Michigan State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, is drafting legislation that would require Michigan's nonprofit land conservancies to pay property taxes unless they agree to open the land under their stewardship to unlimited public access and motorized vehicles. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding of what the "conserve" part of "conservancies" means. Land conservancies act as stewards of some of Michigan's most pristine and unspoiled natural areas, protecting them against the threat of future development, and preserving those areas for future generations.
Conservancies typically permit public access that is appropriate for the specific land, consistent with the primary goal of preservation. Allowing unlimited public access and the indiscriminate use of motorized vehicles threatens those values. There are many places in Michigan available for public access, including the use of ATV's, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles. There is simply no need for making natural areas under the protection of a land conservancy available for those uses. Land conservancies rely heavily upon donated money and time to carry out their missions. Such volunteerism is likely to be curtailed if conservancies effectively lose the ability to preserve the areas under their care.
The suggested legislation is also short-sighted from an economic standpoint. While extra property tax dollars may provide a small bump in revenue, it is no secret that Michigan's abundant natural areas are good for our economy. In addition to promoting tourism, Michigan is a better place to live and play because some of our most significant natural areas have been preserved for future generations.