Land conservancies partnering in multi-state project

Larry Limpf

News Editor

A local land conservancy is participating in a partnership spanning watersheds across the Great Lakes basin - from the Western Lake Erie basin, to the Saginaw Bay watershed in Michigan, to the Lake Superior watershed that includes parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota - in an effort to restore natural areas and improve water quality
Black Swamp Conservancy is coordinating with six other organizations on the project: Little Forks Conservancy, Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, Minnesota Land Trust, Wisconsin Landmark Conservancy, Freshwater Society, and the Conservation Fund, which will function as the fiscal agent for the partnership.
The goal for each member of the group is to identify, acquire, and protect land in its jurisdiction that is contributing excess nutrients and pollutants to rivers and lakes, Rob Krain, executive director of Black Swamp Conservancy, said.
But by sharing expertise and data, the organizations “are raising our game across the Great Lakes,” he said. “Our local work holds lessons for conservationists across the Midwest and we, in turn, can learn from other great organizations. Together, we will each be more successful in retiring marginal land and restoring it to hold and treat water naturally. Restored wetlands create wildlife habitat and recreation areas as well as reduce erosion and algae growth in rivers and lakes.”
Black Swamp Conservancy has already developed a Geographic Information System quantitative model that sifts through data, enabling the conservancy and its partners to locate land parcels with the most potential to contribute to water quality improvement.
“We’re sharing how we built that with the other members of the team so they can replicate and improve it in their own communities. We’ve also built significant expertise in wetland, floodplain, and stream restoration to aid our partners,” Krain said.
Earlier this year, Freshwater announced it had been awarded $1.5 million from the Great Lakes Protection Fund for the five-year effort to improve water quality in Great Lakes watersheds by working with local land trusts and watershed modeling experts. Teams will identify landowners in key locations and prioritize croplands that would provide the greatest water quality benefits. Areas with the highest potential for phosphorus loading and lowest predicted land value are being targeted, Freshwater said in a release announcing the grant.
That approach differs from other programs that rely on landowners to voluntarily implement best management practices by providing permanent solutions that benefit water quality. Even the Conservation Reserve Program contracts, which pay farmers to take acres out of production, aren’t permanent and the number of enrolled acres can vary widely from year to year.
“That’s really the key to our restoration work. It insures the permanence of the habitats and eco-system services they provide,” Krain said. “We see the CRP land fluctuate with market conditions in the grain industry and with the funding of the CRP year after year, farm bill after farm bill. We are focusing on taking direct action to preserve land permanently. We feel that is the most successful route we’ve found.”
To help fund land acquisitions and conservation easements, the project will include a “cause marketing” component. Krain said the marketing program is geared to developing a new stream of funding from people taking steps to protect drinking water through their choices as consumers.
“A person buying a water bottle or sunhat might be more likely to pay a little more if they know that some of their money is helping to protect our Great Lakes,” he said.


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