Aspects of the newly-recombined Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment sound promising for the Upper Peninsula, but we hope the new agency focuses on efficiency and keeping "boots on the ground" as it moves forward.
Director Rebecca Humphries said some of the concepts eyed as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality reconnect are already in use and the U.P. Regional directors will assume responsibility for each of the four lake basin divisions around the state.
Stacy Welling has already been serving in that post for the U.P. citizen advisory committees will be created across the state to help the DNRE officials get ideas directly from the public.
These committees have already been active in the U.P., which was used as a testing ground. But the advisory councils are set to change, growing in scope to include input on environmental programs as well as wildlife management.
We hope the new councils and regional directors will continue to help mold a more responsive DNRE.
There's no doubt that the new agency will have to operate in a lean and efficient manner. There simply isn't money in Lansing for it to do otherwise. Budgets will be a serious and ongoing challenge for the new department. Humphries has said the recombined agency will have to "narrow up" - become a more streamlined version of the previous agencies.
That means eventual staff reductions. Some cuts may come quickly. An early retirement plan expected to be unveiled soon may involve 300 to 400 workers.
We hope these staff cuts will come from areas of the DNRE that won't jeopardize its core activities in the Upper Peninsula. Humphries should focus on eliminating division chiefs, managers and Lansing bureaucrats - not conservation officers and environmental enforcement personnel out in the field.
Humphries said she hopes after the dust settles on the restructuring and recombining, the DNRE will be able to maintain or possibly even increase those boots-on-the-ground positions - entry-level field biologists and environmental field employees. We hope so, too.
It's the field workers of the DNRE who will help manage the U.P. deer herd, document the growth of wolf packs and monitor runoff from mining operations. The department is absolutely critical to the ecology and economy of the peninsula.
We'll be looking for the new DNRE to put its resources out in the field - in the U.P. That's where, after all, the natural resources are.