This September, the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts (MACD) secured base operational funding from Michigan’s State Legislative budget for the first time in 12 years.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) awarded 169 grants totaling an estimated $9.7 million to 75 Michigan conservation districts (CDs) to implement voluntary conservation practices on private lands and privately held forests. With $3 million of the grant funding designated towards district operations through Michigan’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget, all 75 Michigan CDs finally have enough money to keep their offices open and staffed for the next year, regardless of incoming contracts, grants or program-specific operational funding.
“These funds will allow districts to identify and prioritize the most pressing needs in their communities and ensure landowners have access to technical assistance for their farms,” said Gary McDowell, MDARD Director. “Conservation districts are integral to the success of many of MDARD’s programs. We partner with conservation districts because they provide trusted expertise and assistance to farmers and landowners. That knowledge is critical for adopting voluntary conservation that protects soil, crops, forests, waterways and wildlife.”
These grants are designated to support the implementation of regular district operations, the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, the Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative, the Forestry Assistance Program, the Produce Safety Program and other district projects. Funding towards these programs will allow CDs to more effectively help local producers, provide access to natural resource management assistance, analyze and identify local conservation needs, and implement best management practices based on the needs identified.
Securing base funding Michigan’s districts has been MACD’s top priority for years, especially to help keep the doors open with some of Michigan’s financially struggling districts. Several districts had to consolidate to keep conservation programs running in their regions since losing state funding in 2009.
“Over the last two years, we’ve worked hard to develop messaging, policy handouts, advocacy scripts and an advocacy schedule; all necessary to accomplish our goals,” said Dan Moilanen, MACD Executive Director. “This effort culminated countless hours of staff and volunteer time to drive our message home that Michigan needs to fund our CDs in order for us to effectively deliver conservation practices on public and private land.”
Starting in 2019, MACD began rebranding and shifting its media efforts to represent both the community relevance of Michigan’s conservation districts, as well as their cutting-edge and tireless region-specific work throughout the state. The association again pivoted in 2021, shifting its legislative advocacy to target key decision makers on state appropriations committees, including bringing in constituent district managers and staff for meetings with relevant state representatives and senators.
Next steps for Michigan’s CDs in FY 2022 include capturing data of how each district is using its funds, as well as the base funding’s impact on delivery of key conservation efforts in the districts.