Environmentalists in Michigan have been on the defensive since the last election. Republicans have rolled back shoreline protections they say were onerous and they limited the ability of the state to conserve land. New bills in the works would open up more places to motorized vehicles.
Now some of the lawmakers leading the charge on these issues say they're worried about something more ominous. They want to strike back against what they see as a global conspiracy.
GOP lawmakers warn of a new world order
The town of Vanderbilt has seen better days. The village near Gaylord bills itself as the gateway to the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The heart of the forest is a few miles down the road.
But the Gateway Restaurant in Vanderbilt closed in 2009. That was a year after horseback riding was restricted to certain trails and roads in the forest. The owner, Ernie Schuster says business was already tough then because of high gas prices.
"Probably 50 percent of our business was from the horseback riders" says Schuster, who instead now runs a resale shop called Hidden Treasures.
He says the changes in the forest rules "collapsed" the economy of Vanderbilt.
Some lawmakers point to Vanderbilt as an illustration of a larger problem. Among the more prominent is State Senator Tom Casperson from Escanaba. Mainly, Casperson just thinks there are too many environmental rules. But he says the obstacles that communities come up against on land use issues are baffling.
"We can't get trails put in for ORVs. We're kicking horse people out," he says. "Why?"
Casperson says he was dismissive when it was first suggested to him that the answer is a global conspiracy. This is commonly referred to as Agenda 21. That's the name of a report issued 20 years ago by United Nations about stuff like controlling pollution, combating poverty and helping farmers.
The report is a set of non-binding recommendations. It's not a treaty. But Casperson says he often comes across plans in Michigan that seem to connect to ideas in Agenda 21.
A ban on global governance
So Casperson is interested in legislation introduced this summer by Representative Greg Macmaster from Kewadin meant to outlaw Agenda 21. The bill is also sponsored by Frank Foster from Petoskey and Ray Franz from Onekema.
It makes it illegal for any government in Michigan to implement parts of Agenda 21 that infringe on private property rights. It would also ban organizations that are accredited by the U.N. to help with this program.
Macmaster thinks the United Nations is a threat to the property rights of U.S. citizens.
"I took an oath in office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Michigan Constitution and that's what I'm doing."
One project in northern Michigan MacMaster says might be linked to Agenda 21 is The Grand Vision. That's a community planning effort in the Grand Traverse Region that has the support of everyone from Sarah Lee to Goodwill to the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. It promotes things like clean water and strong local economies.
MacMaster says he isn't sure if his bill would do anything to The Grand Vision. That's why he wants to hold hearings to see what kind of influence Agenda 21 is having.
Are you serious?
Conservationists say all this is disturbing.
Paul Rose, a member of the board of the Pigeon River Country Advisory Council, says he didn't take any of it seriously until he saw the legislation.
"It just seemed too preposterous, too absurd to take seriously."
Rose says in the case of horses in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, there are a number of reasons for the restrictions, like preserving a place for the wild elk herd there.
Rose says talk of a global conspiracy shortcuts debate with fear.
"Ideas themselves should not be threatening."
The law could also have implications for planners. At a recent conference of the Michigan Association of Planners a session was held about the proposed legislation.
Dick Norton, a legal scholar who teachers urban planning at the University of Michigan, said the bill was "hugely troubling." He says Agenda 21 outlines basic principles for good planning. The proposed legislation bans recommendations even "traceable" to Agenda 21. Norton says that could mean outlawing sound urban planning work.