Regional conservation districts given grants

MARQUETTE — Regional conservation districts have been awarded a variety of grants from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Environmental Stewardship Division.

The division awarded 169 grants totaling an estimated $9.7 million to 75 Michigan conservation districts to implement voluntary conservation practices on private lands and privately held forests.

Conservation districts are local government entities working to enhance and conserve soil, water, wildlife and other natural resources in their local communities. This year marks an investment of $3 million for district operations, the highest funding levels since 2008, the Michigan Department of Agriculture said.

“Michigan is known for our incredible natural resources and robust agricultural sector,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “Strong investments like this will help our conservation districts continue to work with MDARD to assist Michigan farmers. Together, we will stay laser-focused on growing Michigan’s economy, creating good-paying jobs, driving down costs, and ushering in a new era of prosperity for our families, communities, and small businesses in every sector.”

This funding will help support and elevate conversation district partners, according to Gary McDowell, MDARD director.

“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,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Grants issued to conservation districts in the Upper Peninsula are for the implementation of the following conservation programs:

Conservation district operations

The purpose of this grant is to provide support to conservation districts in carrying out operational duties associated with natural resource management activities consistent with the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

U.P. conservation districts awarded $40,000 grants were Marquette County, Alger, Chippewa/Luce/Mackinac, Delta, Dickinson, Gogebic, Houghton/Keweenaw, Iron/Baraga, Menominee and Schoolcraft districts.

Through these grants, the conservation districts will provide citizens easy access to natural resource management assistance, assess and analyze local natural resource management needs, and implement natural resource management based on the needs identified.

Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program

MAEAP is a voluntary, proactive program designed by a coalition of farmers, agricultural commodity groups, state and federal agencies, and conservation and environmental groups to reduce farmers’ legal and environmental risks. The Michigan Department of Agriculture said it teaches effective land stewardship practices that comply with state and federal regulations and shows farmers how to identify and prevent agricultural pollution risks on their farms.

The conservation district technicians hired with these grants are trained in delivering all MAEAP risk assessments, helping farmers develop Farm Improvement Action Plans and assisting them step by step to MAEAP verification in the Farmstead, Livestock, Cropping, and Forest Wetland and Habitat Systems.

In the U.P., the Delta Conservation District was awarded $76,000 while the Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District was awarded $74,500.

Conservation Technical Assistance Initiative

The CTAI program provides Michigan farmers and landowners with conservation planning and engineering assistance, allowing them easier access to federal cost-share dollars for implementing conservation practices. The program leverages funding from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to employ five engineers, eight soil conservationists and 10 program assistants.

The Delta Conservation District was awarded grants of $69,000 and $53,500 while the Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District was awarded a $75,000 grant.

Forestry Assistance Program

FAP provides technical assistance to private forestland owners. Conservation district foresters work one on one with private forestland owners and private sector foresters to promote sustainable management of the private forest resource.

They provide no-cost site visits to private forestland owners in their service area. They also provide promotion and outreach by conducting workshops, hosting field days and writing articles for local publications. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, these 19 foresters also play a critical role in helping forestland owners enroll in the Qualified Forest Program, an MDARD program that encourages landowners to actively manage their privately owned forests for commercial harvest, wildlife habitat enhancement and improvement of other non-forest resources.

In exchange for managing their forests in a sustainable fashion, landowners receive a tax exemption on their forested property.

The Marquette County Conservation District was given a $68,000 grant. Other U.P. districts awarded such grants were the Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District, $70,600; the Delta Conservation District, $73,000; the Dickinson Conservation District, $68,000; the Gogebic Conservation District, $73,000; and the Iron Baraga Conservation District, $68,000.

Produce Safety Program

The Produce Safety Program is a cooperative effort between the FDA, MDARD, Michigan State University Extension and local conservation districts to help farms of all sizes voluntarily improve produce safety on the farm.

The grants support six conservation district produce safety technicians who deliver on-farm technical assistance using the Michigan Produce Safety Risk Assessment to educate and help develop and produce safety plans as well as coordinate local, state and federal agency resources to help farmers reduce identified produce safety risks and make progress toward compliance with state and federal regulations regarding produce safety.

The Marquette County Conservation District was awarded a $78,500 grant in this category.

Local district busy

The Marquette County Conservation District has been busy with a variety of projects this year, according to its Facebook page.

The MCCD said it plans to help Barrel + Beam, a brewery located in Marquette Township, create a native landscape by planting native fruit trees and pollinator gardens in its outdoor space.

In turn, Barrel + Beam will let the MCCD use its venue for its annual meeting in December.

The district said Barrel + Beam uses local Michigan fruit in its handcrafted drinks whenever it can. The project also will benefit pollinators.

The district’s annual meeting and board election is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at Barrel + Beam, located at 260 Northwoods Road. The guest speaker will be Ryne Rutherford, biologist at Biophilia, LLC.

“When they make their drinks, they can actually harvest some of the stuff growing by their building,” said Heather Gustafson, district manager of the MCCD, about the project.

For more information about the Marquette County Conservation District, visit www.marquettecd.com.


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