The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has awarded $7.4 million in funding to southeast Michigan land and water conservation organizations through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
The City of Ann Arbor Greenbelt Program led the effort to secure the funding, acting as the lead partner among nine conservation organizations. These nine partners have joined together to create the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership, an effort that spans both the Huron and Raisin watersheds in southeast Michigan.
The RCPP award will be matched by local conservation funds, and the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership will represent over $15 million invested in farmland preservation, water quality protection and wildlife habitat improvements over a five-year period. Collectively, the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership aims to permanently protect 2,000 acres of land, and support farmers in implementing systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats and increase climate resilience.
“We appreciate NRCS’s leadership and the support of Michigan’s congressional delegation for this project and for land preservation in southeast Michigan” said City of Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. “The Greenbelt program is emblematic of the city’s commitment to strategic partnerships and land preservation in the Ann Arbor area and beyond.”
Since 2000, local conservation partners have utilized $114 million to protect over 18,000 acres of land in Washtenaw County alone. This represents a diverse protected landscape of green infrastructure, productive farmland, and interconnected habitats that support carbon storage, water filtration and biodiversity in the southeast Michigan region.
“This award is a testament to the importance of seeing a vision through to reality — parcel by parcel, stream by stream,” said Greenbelt Program Manager Remy Long. “This vision started decades ago through grassroots efforts led by local champions of conservation. Today, that vision has become a cohesive, formidable and flourishing effort to guarantee a future that includes protected and stewarded lands and waters in southeast Michigan.”
Washtenaw County — which contains significant portions of the Huron and Raisin watersheds — has lost over 223,000 acres of farmland since 1935. That averages to over 2,600 acres lost each year, and over 7 acres each day. While these impacts to the landscape continue, the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership will help preserve what farmland and green infrastructure remains. These protected lands create continuing environmental and social benefits, which include cost-effective landscape-level carbon storage and creating affordable farmland opportunities to support new and beginning farmers. These outcomes advance regional farmland conservation goals, as well as the City of Ann Arbor’s Carbon Neutrality Plan.
In the 2021 RCPP grant cycle, NRCS invested $330 million in 85 locally driven RCPP projects across the nation. The $7.4 million award for the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership represents the largest award in Michigan in the 2021 cycle, with a statewide allocation of over $16.5 million. Throughout its history, RCPP has leveraged local partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands in the United States.
Other Lake Erie Conservation Partnership partners include: Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission, Scio Township, Ann Arbor Township, Webster Township, Legacy Land Conservancy, Six Rivers Land Conservancy, Huron River Watershed Council, Washtenaw County Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Please direct any questions about the Lake Erie Conservation Partnership to Remy Long, Greenbelt program manager, at 734.794.6210 ext. 42798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City of Ann Arbor Greenbelt Program is an innovative land preservation program that has protected 6,300 acres of farmland and open space surrounding the city of Ann Arbor, and has leveraged over $29 million through grants, landowner donations and other locally funded programs.
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Photo credit: The Conservation Fund