*This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 edition of Michigan Out-of-Doors
By Chris Lamphere
Of all the public policy ideas that have ever been proposed in the state of Michigan, it’s safe to say that few rival the scope and significance of the Natural Resources Trust Fund.
“It will go down in Michigan history,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger. “It’s one of the best ideas our state’s ever generated. It’s a totally novel concept that is elegant and brilliant.”
Since its legislative inception in 1976, the trust fund has contributed nearly $2 billion toward land purchases and recreational development projects throughout Michigan.
Perusing the laundry list of investments made by the trust fund, it’s easy to forget where the money comes from and how it came to be used for acquiring, improving and protecting lands for public use.
The idea of setting up a trust fund to capture revenue generated through oil, gas and mineral activities on state lands was envisioned as an answer to a contentious question that raged in the 1970s and still rages today: how do we mitigate the damage that exploitation of natural resources inevitably causes to the environment?
Consolidating ownership of large swaths of land has a tremendous impact in terms of expanding public accessibility, improving recreational opportunities and managing the ecological continuity of the land, Eichinger said.
“Opportunities to secure these types of acquisitions don’t come up very often,” Eichinger said. “If we didn’t have the trust fund — and having it available at a moment’s notice to jump on opportunities — what would be required to pull something like that off? Hundreds of large and small areas wouldn’t necessarily be available to the public like they are today.”
In November, voters will be asked to approve some changes to the trust fund that will ensure its viability into the foreseeable future.