Environmentalists in Michigan have been on the defensive since the last election. Republicans rolled back shoreline protections they say were onerous and they limited the ability of the state to conserve land. New bills in the works would open up more places to motorized vehicles. And now some of the lawmakers leading the charge on these issues say they’re worried about something more ominous. They want to strike back against what they see as a global conspiracy.
Horseback riding restrictions
The town of Vanderbilt has seen better days. The village bills itself as the gateway to the Pigeon River Country State Forest, a few miles down the road. But the Gateway Restaurant in Vanderbilt closed in 2009.
That was a year after horseback riding was restricted to certain trails in the forest.
The owner, Ernie Schuster, says business was already tough then because of high gas prices.
“Probably 50 percent of our business was from the horseback riders. Then after the DNR put the stops to most of the riding out there, and campsites, most of the riders said they weren’t coming back because it just wasn’t worth it and basically collapsed our whole economy in this town.”
Some lawmakers point to Vanderbilt as an illustration of a larger problem.
Among the more prominent is state Senator Tom Casperson (R) from Escanaba.
Mainly, Casperson just thinks there are too many environmental rules.
But he says the obstacles that communities come up against on land use issues are baffling.
“We can’t get trails put in for ORVs. We’re kicking horse people out… pretty much when it comes to recreational activity, if you’ve got to build anything or connect anything, it’s a battle to get it done. Why?”
Casperson says he was dismissive when it was first suggested to him that the answer is a global conspiracy.
This is commonly referred to as Agenda 21.
That’s the name of a report issued 20 years ago by United Nations about stuff like controlling pollution, combating poverty and helping farmers.
The report is non-binding.
It’s not a treaty.
But Casperson says he often comes across plans in Michigan that seem to connect to ideas in Agenda 21.
“Most citizens if you tell them something like that is going on I think most people would say ‘You’re crazy.’ I’m still not convinced except for all these coincidences.”
New legislation attempts to ban Agenda 21
This summer, state Representative Greg MacMaster (R) from Kewadin introduced legislation meant to outlaw Agenda 21.
It makes it illegal for any government in Michigan to implement parts of Agenda 21 that infringe on private property rights.
It would also ban organizations that are accredited by the U.N. to help with this program.
MacMaster thinks the United Nations is a threat to the property rights of U.S. citizens.
“I took an oath in office that I was going to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Michigan Constitution and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Conservationists say all this is disturbing.
Paul Rose is on the board of the Pigeon River Country Advisory Council.
He says he didn’t take any of it seriously until he saw the legislation.
“It just seemed too preposterous, too absurd to take seriously. Obviously, we all know there are a certain number of conspiracy theorists out there. Some people are mentally and emotionally just wired to be prone to these sorts of things.”
Rose says in the case of horses in the Pigeon River Country, there are a number of reasons for the restrictions, like preserving a place for the wild elk herd there.
Rose says talk of a global conspiracy shortcuts debate with fear.
“The ideas themselves should not be threatening and to me, the debate needs to take place on these ideas as they relate to resource management in Michigan and not who shares those same values.”
What a ban on Agenda 21 would do is not clear, not even to Representative Greg MacMaster.
He says he wants to hold hearings to see exactly what influence the document has.