By Howard Meyerson
The development of Michigan’s natural resource economy is a high priority for JR Richardson, the new chairman of the state’s Natural Resources Commission. But the Ontonagon resident thinks that shouldn’t happen without proper safeguards in place. Protecting them is even more important.
“Without a doubt protecting the state’s resources is the number one priority,” said Richardson, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in December to chair the commission. He replaces outgoing chairman Tim Nichols, of Cadillac.
“Once that is secured we can look at what we have: timber harvests and mining and boating and bicycling,” said Richardson, a member of the NRC since 2007. Richardson is also chairman of the state’s Timber Advisory Council and the Citizens Advisory Committee for State Parks.
While Richardson’s appointment caught some by surprise, Erin McDonough, executive director for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said he is a good choice. Richardson brings a science background and experience with commission governance to his position.
“He’s a good fit,” McDonough said. “He is passionate about the outdoors and he knows how to run meetings. He has always been a good convener of disparate interests with the goal of finding common ground to move forward.”
Richardson grew up in the Upper Peninsula where he enjoyed hunting, fishing and backpacking in the Porcupine Mountain region. He worked in the paper industry for 31 years and now works for TRAXYS Corporation, a New York-based renewable energy company.
Finding “secure funding” for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is another of
Richardson’s top priorities. The agency is largely funded by user fees like hunting and fishing license sales, federal excise taxes on related equipment, timber and mining revenue and the state’s recreation passport.
To that end, he plans to work with Gov. Rick Snyder, DNR director, Keith Creagh and the Michigan legislature. He plans also to reach out to various stakeholder groups.
Economic growth, he said, is very important to the state. Its natural resource base, however, can play a still larger role than it has. Richardson favors growing the state’s timber, mining and natural gas exploration industries. He supports further exploration for natural gas on both public and private lands, if it can be done in an environmentally friendly way.
“We need to use these resources to push the economy,” Richardson said. “I live in one of the largest counties in the state. It has wood, copper, water and one of the highest employment rates in the state.”
McDonough said timber and mining are important, but hopes Richardson will lead the commission to become stronger voice for fishing, hunting, and wildlife and fisheries too, all of which contribute substantially to the Michigan economy.
“They really need to be advocate for hunting fishing fish and wildlife management and make sure that part of our natural resources is front and center and as important as timber and mining and parks and recreation,” McDonough said. “That will be a challenge that will come under his leadership.”
Richardson has already asked DNR wildlife staffers to update the NRC in January on future plans for wolf management in light of legislation passed that designates the gray wolf as a game species.
He also anticipates that off-road-vehicle access and trails will become a more talked about issue in 2013.
“I would like to see Michigan become a destination for ORVs,” Richardson said. “How that happens will unfold in a year or so.”
Copyright © 2012 Howard Meyerson