Legislation authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to preserve more than 32,000 acres of Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness, while providing important access to the lakeshore's recreational opportunities and cultural resources, achieved an important milestone this morning with its unanimous approval by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Introduced in January, the legislation was referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee for action. Stabenow, a member of the committee, led the effort to get the committee to consider and pass the bill today.
"The lakeshore celebrates nature's wonders -- the magnificent sand dunes, sweeping vistas, fantastic beaches, and peaceful woodlands and pastures," Levin said. "This bill is vital for protecting natural areas while enabling important access to recreational and cultural resources. I am encouraged the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved this legislation early this Congress and I hope for swift passage in the Senate."
"Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the most beautiful places in America, and we must ensure it stays that way," said Stabenow. "Every year, the park attracts 1.2 million hikers, hunters, fishermen, birdwatchers, and other visitors. With the designation of this wilderness land, we are preserving access to the sights, sounds and beauty of the Lakeshore while promoting one of our state's top tourist attractions."
The legislation culminated 13 years of efforts by the local community, the National Park Service and Congress to update the lakeshore's general management plan and protect the park's unique natural habitat from harmful development while enabling public access to its beaches, trails and streams. Most of these areas have been managed as wilderness since 1982 when Congress passed a law that required the National Park Service to manage them as such until Congress acts upon a new recommendation.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act was the product of an extensive public engagement process to redefine the areas managed as wilderness within the 71,000-acre lakeshore. The plan reflects a balanced approach to conservation, recreation, and historic preservation, and it has the support of community groups, local government agencies, the National Park Service and environmental and historical preservation groups.
Under the legislation, areas designated as wilderness are undeveloped and possess significant and valuable natural characteristics. Developed county roads and state highways, boat launches and many historical structures are excluded from the wilderness designation to maintain access and recreational opportunities and ensure preservation and interpretation of historical resources. Hunting, fishing, trail use and camping would continue. Motor boats would still be allowed offshore of the dunes, and allowed to beach in areas adjacent to the wilderness area.
Similar legislation introduced by Levin and co-sponsored by Stabenow in 2011 passed the Senate in December 2012, but the House of Representatives did not take action on the bill.