MACD Hosts 2022 Capitol Day in Lansing

MACD Hosts 2022 Capitol Day in Lansing

On Thursday, May 19th, the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts hosted a Capitol Day in Lansing, where we were joined by dozens of MACD members representing Conservation Districts throughout the state, including parts of Northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Throughout the day, District Directors, Administrators, and Staff connected with their legislators one-on-one to make the case for renewing the $1 million "one-time" funding for the FY23 budget, via the MDARD Conservation Districts Operations Grant program.

"Our work is about trust. We build relationships with local landowners so that we can provide the voluntary, non-regulatory technical assistance critical for implementing conservation on private and public land. 72% of all land in Michigan is privately owned, and Conservation Districts are the time-tested system for delivering conservation practices on private land," stated MACD Executive Director Dan Moilanen during his presentation at the "Lunch and Learn Event" in the House Office Building Mackinac Room. He continued, "If the State of Michigan renews the $1 million in funding, and considers increasing funding to levels similar to what neighboring states fund their districts, this will help Michigan's districts stabilize their operations so that they can better retain staff and maintain the relationships they have with local landowners. With the foundation of our work being about the trust farmers and landowners have with their local CD government, high staff turnover significantly affects our capacity to successfully deliver conservation programming."

Following MACD's presentation, a panel discussion was hosted where a deeper conversation occurred about the need for long-term, stable state funding for Michigan's Conservation Districts. The panel consisted of Michigan Association of Conservation Districts President Gerald Miller (Chair of Kent Conservation District), Conservation District Employees of Michigan President Melissa Eldridge, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Conservation Programs Manager John Switzer, and U.S. Department of Agriculture - Natural Resource Conservation Service State Conservationist Garry Lee. MACD's partners spoke at length about the need for increased funding for Michigan's Conservation Districts.

"The more stable districts are, the more they are able to deliver on Federal Farm Bill programs that put dollars directly into the pockets of local farmers' and landowners, stimulating local economies. Michigan consistently ranks behind other Midwest states in total Farm Bill contracts, largely due to the fact that until FY22 our districts received zero operational funding from the state," stated MACD President Gerald Miller. He continued, "Due to our work being non-regulatory and voluntary, Conservation Districts are best positioned to address massive environmental challenges like the algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin and Saginaw Bay watersheds, an issue that affects the drinking water sources for millions of people. We just need the funding to make sure we can get the job done." 

When asked about what the single most critical issue facing Conservation Districts today, Conservation District Employees of Michigan President, Melissa Eldridge expressed, "High staff turnover, without a doubt, is the biggest issue. Districts consistently lose their staff members to MDARD, USDA, DNR, EGLE, or non-profit entities who have more robust funding structures that can provide higher wages, retirement health insurance benefits. If districts had more funding, we could do a better job of making our compensation packages more competitive."

Following the Lunch and Learn event, MACD members finished their remaining legislative meetings, toured the Capitol, and many traveled back across the state to their respective communities.

MACD thanks its members who participated in our 2022 Capitol Day, and we hope to see more District Directors and Staff next year!
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