This case examined whether the city of Saginaw could regulate hunting within its city limits independently of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The plain language of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) states that the DNR has exclusive authority to regulate hunting activities and to determine the boundaries of hunting areas in the state. It plainly states that if a municipality wants to regulate hunting within its boundaries, its sole recourse is to petition the DNR for adoption of its desired regulation. The Court missed the forest for the trees in its opinion, misconstruing an unambiguous phrase to invalidate the plain meaning of the statute and deny a traditional outdoor recreational opportunity that had long been practiced lawfully on the property in question.
The Court determined that two ordinances passed by the City of Saginaw effectively banning hunting within city limits were valid, even though they seemed to conflict with the Department of Natural Resources’ power to regulate hunting in Michigan.
Michael Czymbor owned a 56-acre plot of land in Saginaw that for many years had been used for hunting. In 1999, Saginaw enacted an ordinance that outlawed firing a gun within city limits and made no exceptions for hunting. In 2002, the city enacted a similar ordinance banning the use of bows and arrows within city limits. When Czymbor applied to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a hunting permit for his property, he was told that the DNR could not issue a permit because Saginaw’s ordinance did not allow hunting within city limits. Czymbor then brought suit, arguing that Saginaw’s ordinances conflicted with a Michigan statute that grants DNR authority to regulate hunting in Michigan.
Are Saginaw’s ordinances banning hunting within city limits valid, or are they preempted by a statute that grants the Michigan Department of Natural Resources authority to regulate hunting?
The Court (Justice Young, joined by Chief Justice Taylor and Justices Corrigan and Markman) held that Saginaw’s ordinances were valid for two reasons. First, Czymbor did not establish that his property was an official hunting ground under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). Second, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ authority to regulate hunting under NREPA applies only to townships, and not to cities like Saginaw.
Justice Cavanagh, dissenting, argued that the Saginaw ordinance was invalid because it did not have an exception for hunting. Cavanagh believed that NREPA gave the DNR exclusive regulatory authority over hunting, so Saginaw could not also regulate hunting within city limits.
Justice Weaver (joined by Justice Kelly) also dissented, arguing that plaintiff’s land did qualify as an official hunting ground and therefore was subject to DNR’s regulations under NREPA. She read the relevant parts of NREPA to give the DNR authority to determine whether a particular property is a hunting ground under the statute, and argued that the statute allowed DNR to regulate hunting anywhere in the state, including in cities like Saginaw.