Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority – board meeting July 10, 2014

My quick personal notes on the Board of Commissioners meeting of Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority – July 10, 2014

The purpose of this document is to update the concerned birders and other nature-lovers in SE Michigan. It is not an official transcript of the meeting by any means. And it’s possible I misunderstood things, so keep that in mind. I wanted to give my initial impressions of the attitudes of the board members and management of the metropark system.

Public comment about mowing during nesting season made by:

Lee Alden (sp?), Barb Baldinger, Heather Slayton, Ann Gilmore, Doris Applebaum, Janet Hug, Kim Smith, Annie Crary

Audience consisted of about 40 people, about a dozen or so were there for the mowing issue and the rest were mostly “suits” – various management levels of the metropark system.

They allowed us all to have up to three minutes each. I watched the commissioners as we took our turns at the podium, and most of them looked down at their desks, barely acknowledging us as we spoke to them. A few of them made eye contact occasionally, but my general impression was that they were just tolerating us. Two of them were even sitting with their backs to the audience. Strange.

I was so very proud of each person who got up to speak. We were eloquent and passionate, (with only a few tears shed).  The Chairman declined to give us any response, saying that their obligation was just to listen to us.

He asked Mr. McCulloch to announce something though, because “maybe some of these people will want to leave after this.” I had high expectations at that moment. But his “announcement” was basically that they will be making aerial photos to use as guides for which areas to mow and not mow in each park. He also said he was appointing a person to be in charge of this issue…I couldn’t hear him well because he didn’t use his microphone (none of the members of the board used their microphones except the Chairman, making it hard to hear many of the details during the meeting.) He named Ryan Colliton as the new “Stewardship Coordinator.”

At this point most of the members of the public left. A few of us stayed for the duration of the meeting, watching presentations about the marketing campaigns and various other programs in the parks. Anyway, at the end of the meeting during the “Commissioners’ Comments” section, there was an interesting exchange, which I’m paraphrasing because I couldn’t write fast enough:

Commissioner Marans…. said he was concerned about the timing of the mowing, that the recommendations of key staff had been ignored, about the moving of the bluebird boxes, about the seeming ignorance of staff about EPA regulations, and the importance of the natural resources as educational parts of the parks. Most importantly, he wanted to know WHY this had happened.

Commissioner Lester: (irritated) The mowing was originally stopped to save money! (The implication being that now that they didn’t have the financial constraints they were free to mow as much as they wanted.)

Marans: No, it was also to protect the natural areas!

Lester: “No…”  …then he said he’d been in this business for a long time and had seen lots of petitions made. He said just because a few people make a petition doesn’t mean we have to listen to them. (He actually said, “just because they run it up the flagpole doesn’t mean we have to act on it.”) He said that management made a decision and that should be enough.

Then the Chairman said something like “perhaps we can have some discussion of this at the next meeting.” Clearly there is disagreement on the board about how to run the metropark system.

After adjournment we had a few words with Chip Tischer, Community Relations Coordinator. We noted that during his presentation he’d mentioned that they are doing lots of outreach to Rotary Clubs, small businesses, etc., but none to Audubon Societies. We said that it would be nice to include the birding community in some of their outreach, and he seemed very amenable to that. We exchanged cards and said we’d be in touch.

Then we went over to talk to Ryan Colliton, the Stewardship Coordinator (Ryan.Colliton@metroparks.com). I asked him to tell me what his new job duties were in this new position and he said he’d been in the job since February and that they hadn’t really given him a new job. Hmm, I guess I misunderstood earlier.  As we were talking to him, his boss Paul Muelle joined us (Natural Resources and Environmental Compliance Manager, Paul.Muelle@metroparks.com).

Then Deputy Directory George Phifer joined us. We had a good conversation with the three of them. (BTW, Mr. Phifer said he absolutely did not give the order to remove the bluebird boxes.)  They “made nice” with us, saying they were glad to get our feedback and assuring us that they were very aware of the nature aspects of the parks, etc. Lots of smiles and assurances that they understand the problem and will do better. We repeated all of the points from our presentations, putting emphasis on the TIMING of the mowing, as well as mentioning how we’d seen continued encroachment of developed areas into nature areas over the years, and were concerned that people like us, who use the parks to enjoy nature, are not being considered in the planning and maintenance of the parks. They all encouraged us to contact them anytime we have an issue to discuss, including Mr. Phifer.

My sense of the situation, after watching their presentations about marketing and money-making events, is that nature-lovers are clearly at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of who they believe their “market” is. The individual people on the management team say they understand, and that they value nature, and I have to take them at their word at this point. But we’ll have to watch them to see if their actions match their smiling faces and promises to do better.

Next board meeting is August 14 at Stony Creek Nature Center, 10:30 a.m. Please mark your calendars. Hopefully there will be some more discussion of this issue at that meeting.

Media Coverage:

July 10, 2014: Metroparks will Revisit Mowing Policy After Complaints It Killed Wildlife 

July 10, 2014: Mowing at Harrison Twp  Metropark Angers Visitors  

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Metropark Contact information:(Chain of command — Ryan Colliton reports to Paul Muelle, who reports to George Phifer)

Ryan Colliton, Stewardship Coordinator – 810-227-2757 – ryan.colliton@metroparks.com

Paul Muelle, Natural Resources and Environmental Compliance Manager – Paul.Muelle@metroparks.com

George Phifer, Deputy Director, George.Phifer@metroparks.com

John McCulloch, Director – John.Mcculloch@metroparks.com

2 Responses to Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority – board meeting July 10, 2014

  1. Cindee Giffen says:

    Hi Kim – Thanks for these notes – very helpful!

    To your last point, I think bean-counters can be convinced to keep these parks more natural if they can see the economics of the situation. I’ve only lived in MI for less than a year, but I can’t believe that someone hasn’t figured out the value of nature tourism in this state. Kirtland’s warbler visits most surely bring in big money for that part of the state – people come from a relatively far distance, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and go hiking/biking/boating to see birds. They shop, buy souvenirs and gas, and will keep coming back for the opportunity to check out new habitat or see another rare bird! We can have the same type of situation in Southeast MI if it is supported by the metroparks and other natural areas (Pte. Mou, etc.).

    Perhaps the board would be convinced if we had some information on how much money Kirtland’s warbler tourism brings to the State Park system or the Grayling area. I can envision events like prairie bird & flower walks & bioblitz type surveys at the metroparks that would have the potential to draw birders from surrounding states and bring in much needed $ support. Maybe that kind of evidence would help change the tone from pro-mow to no-mow!

    Thanks again for representing MI birders at this meeting!
    Cindee Giffen

    • Hi Cindee,
      The point about the economic value of tourism is a good one, but it doesn’t seem to matter to the Metropark system. They don’t really care about how much money is brought in to their surrounding communities (hotels, restaurants, etc). I think they are only concerned with making money for the Metropark system itself. And that’s where birding or butterfly-watching fall short. I may be wrong, but I think that’s why they aren’t listening to us.

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