2011 March 9 Sandra Birdsall's Letter to Peaine Township

I've had a number of telephone calls and emails from friends with the same message, “WHAT IS GOING ON ON THE ISLAND?”

What's going on here is frightening. I've heard a number of people comment that they no longer want to live here, From others I've heard that they are reconsidering turning their second home into a retirement home on the Island . Retirees are made to feel like second class citizens who don't deserve the right to participate in discussion because they don't work here and haven't raised their children here.

Islanders who are very upset about the treatment the NREC received have called me they are supportive but afraid to speak out Why is there such fear?

Editorials which say the Island is divided into two types of people make us sound like the Hatfields and McCoys. So do statements that divide the Island into two groups, hunters and birdwatchers. Why would anyone reading the local paper or the forum want to live here? It is vital that our economy grow and what is going on needs to stop.

People have asked me, why we would still want to be a township commission after the way we were treated.

It's because the NREC is a unique and critically important organization for the future of the Island :

unique because it is a collaborative organization made up of diverse interests increasing off island expertise to the island. It is important because Natural Resources are a responsibility of the township and a key to our economic growth. The Island was ranked in the top ten in biodiversity out of the 32,000 great lakes. Our status in the top ten is something we can market provided we are willing to deal with the threats. Another non-profit is not the answer, We would lose the organizational members and the collaborative diversity . Off Island organizations who were impressed by our ability to form a diverse collaborative group to deal with our natural resources are now steering clear of the Island .

Three areas of false and misleading information combined to cause Peaine Township to destroy what was and could still be a very important Township sponsored commission. Unfortuantely for Peaine Township and the Island overall—misinformation and false claims led the Board to make a premature and detrimental decision at the February meeting. It is important to return to this issue so truth can be pursued. The board should be given facts essential to good decision making.

The first thing I would like to address is the letter.

The resolution establishing our commission says the Commission SHALL “Advocate for preservation of areas where our natural resources should be preserved” All of the NREC discussions and planning, stress the importance of the Island 's biodiversity. It is one of the principles adopted by the NREC and guiding our planning. It was included in our plan brochure given to each of you. We are one of the most important Islands in the Great Lakes because of this biodiversity.

The Northern Islander and others have tried to scare you into believing BSA could harm your property rights.. Check out the DNR Website: The designation would create more attention and funding from the DNR . Private property participation is purely voluntary and existing recreational activities including hunting continue.. Private property is and will still continue to be private.

Everything I said in the letter was factual and true. Why then did it cause such controversy? You were mislead to believe the letter derailed QDM and Wildlife Certification. The truth is: Gavin West had told the DNR Division head, Russ Mason , that all of the wildlife and conservation groups on the Island were in agreement and were moving ahead with “wildlife certification” which had been approved by the townships. This statement was categorically untrue. Finding that out from my letter and Jack's letter made Mason angry. Gavin West, Steve West, and Elaine West and ED Wojan want to blame that on me, but the fault is really Gavin's for not being truthful with the DNR.

The letter did not halt QDM or wildlife certification, The DNRE has told us in writing that the designation of a BSA and a state game area are not competitive concepts. In the case of Beaver Island , the BSA designation was intended to ensure that certain unique communities are conserved while game management is being conducted.

Wildlife Certification was just approved by the township last month and QDM regulations are moving forward, both thanks to the Wildlife Club .

The second affect on the Townships decision was Ed Wojan's letter which Pete read at the last meeting a I don't know where Ed gets his information but many statements in the letter are false.

ED says, When the townships set up the organization, they had no idea what it would become . the member organizations were privately selected without public input., and there is no balance to the membership-- Property owners, hunters and major business interests were not asked to participate.

Everything the NREC did was in accordance with the resolution establishing it and voted on by both township boards. All of the members selected were approved by both Township Boards at public meetings. They are listed in the original resolution and in the amended resolution. Peaine Township and St. James Township advertised for their representatives.

Eighteen of the 21 members of the NREC are individual or corporate property owner. Nine of our members are hunters and two others are members of the Wildlife Club who support hunting on their property. The wildlife club is a member. So is the BICC.

Our members include five businesses engaged in eco-tourism and the Chamber of Commerce. One of our members is also a board member of the Chamber.

Ed says: The organization is anti-hunting. Our support for hunting is in writing. Program 4¨ To MaintainViable populations of game species for hunting (deer, ruffled grouse, turkey, woodcock, hare and beaver. Support the Island 's deer management plan, balancing habitat for game species and migratory and song birds. Program 5. Promote responsible recreation and use of the Island for Hunting, fishing, viewing wildlife, enjoying natural resources and hiking and biking.

Ed says we can continue to prepare our plan and then present the ideas to the Township for approval. Actually, that is what we had been doing before being disbanded. Our plan was taken to the townships early on, our plan grew from the roundtable discussions at the symposium. Our summary was printed and circulated to members and the townships. Our agendas have listed developing the procedure for public input, public hearings and adoption by the plan commission and then township. The plan was still a draft and would have remained a draft until public hearings. We were still working on it.

Ed says there is a need to reign in the NREC's out of control leadership and commission and find leadership that will be open .He says Pam & I have pushed our personal views through the organization. All of the NREC minutes are posted on the Peaine Township Website within 8 days of the meeting. Our meetings are noticed and the public is welcome to attend. We have many documents posted on the web as well. Our symposium was for the public and was well attended with a variety of natural resource topics.

The NREC has open discussion on all issues. The group is very diverse. That's why our plan has been discussed for 6 months and has had 11 revisions. Read our plan—I challenge you to find anything that is out of control. 

Why is Ed attacking this group so viciously? I don't know but I do know that the statements made in his attacks are not supported by any evidence. I also know he has never made any effort to talk with us about any of his concerns or come to any of our meetings.

Why would anyone want to abolish a Natural Resources/Ecotourism Commission? Who would do this? . In an attempt to understand what happened, I reread all of the old emails and all the back issues of the Northern Islander.

Well, I've discovered this has been a goal of some folks for quite some time. You need to know that

None of the underlying reasons for the dissolution relate to the letter. This is part of a year long campaign by the Chamber exec, the BICC ( Beaver Island Conservation Club led by Gavin West) and the Northern Islander and Ed Wojan to promote the BICC, discredit the wildlife club and the NREC and to push the BICC into the lead role in managing the Island 's resources. There are a number of examples of this. I've only included some. 

December of 2009, Steve West email from the Chamber of commerce called the NRETC “the bird watching group document doesn't mention hunting and fishing even once and said “ the current version of the old Game Club has too many over the hill mbers who are simply no longer learning and thus out of touch.” In that email he pledges his support for the BICC and says he will urge the chamber to support it. And closes with, Feed a deer this winte,r shoot a coyote and tell the DNR wildocrats to go to hell. 

Begnning in January of 2010 and through out the year, the Northern Islander consistently ran a number of full page articles and full page ads (at least two major articles per issue Glorifying the BICC and QDM and the Chamber's endorsement of BICC. , but never at any time did the Northern Islander disclose that it is a business partner of the BICC. As shown on the BICC web site) . 

February, 2010 Gavin West (BICC) presented a slide that said their goal was to serve as liason to State and National Wildlife and Forestry Agencies.

April-June 2010 Gavin wanted the NREC to immediately endorse the BICC's first version of QDM and was angry when we didn't. Four separate BICC letters to “island leaders” followed stating, that the NREC anti-hunting, anti-angling, radical, and acting outside of what he calls our “charter” and criticizing the upcoming symposium, asking the Township Board to change the NREC leadership and goals and a letter to Pete LoDico and Rick Speck asking the Township to change our charter to reflect deference to sportsmen . .

July 2010. Northern Islander article on the NREC symposium quotes Rick Speck as criticizing the NREC for excluding hunting and fishing. Actually Speaker Eric Ellis spoke on hunting and three other speakers were hunters and addressed hunting in their talks about habitat. Hunting was discussed at the afternoon roundtable discussions.If you want an accurate article about the symposium you‘ll have to read Frank Solle's article in the Beacon  

August 2010. Steve West and Ed Wojan claim the driving guides are amateurish and in competition with

The Wojan Map. The guides are tremendously popular with the tourists, but the Chamber refuses to sell the guides .

October, 2010 Steve West sent a personal email from the Chamber's website stating that the NREC plan was a great deal of verbage in search of a problem(s) that do not exist and are not likely to exist. He recommends that the Townships revoke our “charter” and that we organize as a private group with focus on hiking, biking, birdwatching, etc.” In that letter, he attacks each of the NREC programs with statements like, the : The Island is not facing significant conservation challenges & CMU is handling the protection of our threatened and endangered species, the invasive threat is overstated, and promoting responsible recreation is a solution in search of a problem.

February 2011 The Northern Islander issue which apparently spurred on the action by the Townships is full of misstatements, partial truths, and outright lies: The paper claimed a FOIA request was necessary to get information from the Township and from the NREC.. FACT: No request was made prior to FOIA request. The Northern Islanders misrepresenations categorizing the letter as a breach of the public trust and its effect on QDM and Wildlife Certification are false. Also False are the Northern Islanders categorizations of the effects of BSA and its effect on private property, human use and hunting.

March 2011 . Ed again attacks the NREC, stating the the plan is an attempt to drastically restrict hunting , logging and private property rights and development.

FACT: The NREC has been working on a thoughtful comprehensive plan which attempts to balance the desires of the Island . AS I said previously our agendas show our continued plans for public involvement. Our concern for balance and economic benefit is also stated: “ To protect our plan from offering pie in the sky reasoning, it would need to be adaptive and must reflect measures for a viable economy as well as protection of our natural endowment. The NREC has no ability to affect anyone's rights. We have no power of enacting rules or enforcing them.

Most of all the actions taken relate to Island Politics at their worst and the desire of a few people to be in control. Gavin's last email says, all of you are attempting to resurrect the NREC…NEWSFLASH . . its not going to happen. Gavin apparently thinks the BICC has control over the board and the natural resources .Maybe he does.

Are you going to turn our natural resources over to the BICC. I hope not. We need open dialog and disclosure. The NREC posted all of its minutes, you know who our members were, our plans are open and distributed. Contrary to the representations of Ed and the Northern Islander, we did not have a secret agenda and we were not working subversively to enact public policy. Neither is the Wildlife Club working subversively. The club is open, we know when their meetings are, they run open surveys, we know who their members are. When they circulate an email they copy all of their members.

We can't say the same about the BICC. They have filed with the state as a director run not-for-profit. They do not have to have members meetings. They list three directors, Gavin West, Todd Ireland and Jared Pike. . None of the three have ever lived on the Island . Gavin does not own property on the Island . None owns a house on the Island . We do not know their members, their emails to the NREC show only communications with the three of them, the Northern Islander, the Chamber and Pete LoDico. They have been acknowledged as having frequent meetings in Lansing representing the Island . By whose authority did they represent the Island ?

The failure of the Township to support its Natural Resources Commission is a large marketing mistake.

The Island was being viewed as a unique place because of our collaborative group. Natural Resources are the business of the Township Because of Township's clear recognition of this, we were able to attract top notch speakers to our symposium, we were able to get 4 top planners of the Nature Conservancy to come at their cost to the Island to help us structure our plan. It is a mistake to ignore the letter to the Community from the Beaver Island Association. It is a mistake to follow Ed's lead and characterize Islanders and summer visitors as those who hunt or those who appreciate orchids and bird watching. We can have both. In fact to economically survive we need both.

Our natural resources are too important to be left to one group, they are our major economic tool and are the business of the township. That's why we put together a collaborative group of many organizations. I hope you will review the facts, listen to the BIA and reinstate the NREC.

Sandra Birdsall