Snyder's Veto Shows Sensible View of Environmental Protection

 “The only biodiversity we’re going to have left is Coke versus Pepsi. We’re landscaping
the whole world one stupid mistake at a time.”

-- Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby

The Michigan Legislature concluded 2014 by passing numerous bills in a whirlwind during its lame duck session. The New Year started with Gov. Rick Snyder signing some legislation, but also notably vetoing significant legislation passed by his own party. Many of these bills focused on environmental matters.

Senate Bill 78 purported to require the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to protect and preserve state-owned lands. However, it strictly prohibited MDEQ from promulgating rules “for the purpose of achieving and maintaining biological diversity.” Somewhat contradictorily, the bill also provided that MDEQ must manage forests “in a manner consistent with principals of sustainable forestry.”

In vetoing Senate Bill 78, Gov. Snyder stated that “biodiversity is an essential element of sustainable forest management.” The governor said that Michigan forests supply significant “certified” wood for use in a number of products. Removing biodiversity from the management of those forests would jeopardize those certifications.

So, what is “biodiversity”? The Convention on Biological Diversity defined it as follows: “[T]he variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” It consists of diversity of species, diversity of genetic materials between and within species, and diversity of ecosystems or habitats.

Why is biodiversity desirable from an ecological standpoint? According to one study, areas that are more biologically diverse are more productive on a number of fronts. As an example, merely adding wolves to Yellowstone National Park resulted in a natural decline of the large deer population, which in turn resulted in changes in the deer’s behavior, which in turn resulted in the growth and return of other species that the deer crowded out of the park. The cascading effect of expanding biodiversity not only restored species, but also resulted in positive effects to water quality and reduced erosion.

Why and how is wood “certified” and what does it have to do with biodiversity? Under new building standards that require compliance with some green building requirements, like LEED or Green Globes, wood used during construction must come from forests that are managed sustainably. In order to document that the wood meets these requirements, there are a variety of third-party certification organizations, like the Forest Stewardship Council or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. Third-party reviewers inspect the forest and the management of those forests to confirm that they are managed sustainably, which includes as one of its metrics, biodiversity.

If Senate Bill 78 had become law, state-owned forests would no longer be managed in a way that ensures biodiversity. That in turn would have caused them not to qualify under any number of forest certification programs. Michigan-owned forests would have lost out on a lucrative and growing market.

It is wrong to think of environmental protection as only providing benefits to critters, aesthetic qualities and public health. There are significant economic benefits to preserving ecosystems that do things human efforts cannot duplicate. Gov. Snyder’s veto represents a pragmatic view of environmental protection.

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