Michigan’s Right to Forest Act protects forestland owners from nuisance complaints

The Right to Forest Act helps private forestland owners manage their property without fear of nuisance complaints if they follow generally accepted practices.

Traditional forest management activities – planting or harvesting trees, pruning and controlling weeds and pests – can be noisy, dusty and visually unappealing at least in the short term. With the increase in rural residential uses in forested areas of the state over the past 30 years, there are more opportunities for conflicts between forestland owners and homeowners due to these stewardship practices.

To address his issue, the state enacted the Right to Forest Act, PA 676 of 2002. That law establishes that forestry operations using generally accepted forestry management practices (GAFMPs), cannot be found to be a public or private nuisance under certain circumstances: 1) if the operation existed before land use change or occupancy within one mile of the forestland boundaries, and 2) there would not have been a nuisance before that change occurred.

GAFMPs are developed by the Michigan Natural Resources commission and fall into three categories, including (1) visual changes resulting from removing timber or vegetation, (2) chemical use and dust, and (3) noise and smoke. The GAFMPs are designed for the limited purpose of the act and aren’t intended to address all forest stewardship activities. Although adhering to these voluntary practices provides nuisance complaint protection, they are not intended to replace existing state, federal or local laws, nor are they a substitute for a forest stewardship plan developed by a qualified professional.

In fact, the GAFMP document states that a landowner who is following a forest stewardship plan developed through a third-party certification program (such as the Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative or American Tree Farm System) or develop by a professional forester or natural resources professional, is considered to be in conformance with the GAFMPs.

The Right to Forest Act is often compared to the similarly-named Michigan Right to Farm Act, and there are commonalities, but also some very important distinctions. The acts share similar language regarding nuisance protection by following generally accepted practices and recovery of fees. Other sections of the Right to Farm Act go much further, for example, providing for disclosure statements to new buyers of property near a farm, and establishing a specific process for investigating complaints. Very importantly, the Right to Farm Act preempts local units of government from enacting any regulations, including zoning, that conflict with the act, while the Right to Forest Act does not include this provision. The Right to Forest Act is also not intended to supersede the Right to Farm Act.

Nuisance protection helps private forestland owners sustainably manage their land and thereby contribute to Michigan’s economy and environment. Just as important, as the GAFMPs emphasize, is working with a professional to develop and implement a long-term stewardship plan.

Additional information about forest stewardships options and assistance is available from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Michigan State University Extension.

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