U.S. awards $40M Great Lakes, Mich. conservation grants

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program is announcing $370 million in projects, including $40 million in Great Lakes region projects, Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Wednesday.

The Great Lakes projects — backed by 130 local projects — were created by the farm bill signed into law last year. Stabenow was chair of the Agriculture Committee that passed the five-year, $956 billion farm bill.

Three Michigan projects won funding to address water quality concerns in Western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and the St. Joseph River. Another project will boost wildlife habitat in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula forests and one seeks to improve forest health throughout the state, Stabenow said.

“Today’s announcement is historic and marks one of the largest single federal investments ever in water quality conservation in Michigan and the Great Lakes,” Stabenow said. “Our Michigan projects bring together hundreds of partners already working hard to protect our water, land, and wildlife habitat for future generations. This first-of-its-kind commitment to conserving our natural resources is truly unprecedented and will have a lasting impact on the health of our Great Lakes.”

The Agriculture Department will provide $1.2 billion in funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program over the five-year life of the Farm Bill.

Michigan’s five proposals including matching support from partners including businesses, nonprofits, universities and state and local governments.

The projects include:

$17.5 million: Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorus Reduction Initiative

This partnership will help farmers implement conservation practices to cut phosphorus and sediment runoff into the western Lake Erie basin and reduce toxic algae blooms. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will lead the program, working with Ohio, Indiana and more than 40 local partners. The initiative will focus on the West Lake Erie Watershed from Sandusky at the southern limit to the River Raisin in the north.

Stabenow held a hearing on the issue in December that included the mayor of Toledo after toxic algae blooms fouled tap water for 400,000 people in northern Ohio and southern Michigan for two days in August.

$10 million: Saginaw Bay Watershed Conservation Partnership

This initiative will help farmers and conservation partners improve the water quality and wildlife habitat in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, which has been harmed by phosphorus and nutrient sediment runoff. The Michigan Agri-Business Association and Nature Conservancy will lead 35 local partners to restore acres of wetlands, reduce excessive sediments and nutrients in the watershed, and monitor long-term trends in the fish population and habitat, Stabenow’s office said.

$6.8 million: St. Joseph Watershed Conservation Partnership

More than 70 percent of the St. Joseph River is used by agriculture, covering 210 miles. This project will give farmers public and private financial and technical assistance to access conservation tools that reduce excessive sediment and nutrients in the St. Joseph River and improve wildlife and fish habitat. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will partner with Indiana and over 30 local organizations.

$5 million: Improving Forest Health for Wildlife Resources in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin

This project will boost forest health for nearly 12,000 acres of nonindustrial forest land in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to conserve essential habitat for threatened and endangered species. In Michigan, work will focus on counties in the Upper Peninsula including Marquette, Baraga, Iron, Dickinson, and Menominee. The project is led by the American Bird Conservancy and the Wisconsin in collaboration with Michigan, Minnesota, and 25 local partners.

$1 million: Training Foresters to Enhance the Sustainable Management of Private Forest Land

This project seeks to improve forests within the 12 million acres of private forest land throughout Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division will train professional foresters to work with landowners to implement management practices that combat soil erosion and sediment runoff from timber harvests.

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