Conservation District asks voters to support millage

By BILL RICE

Dickinson Conservation District Board

of Directors

Many people in Dickinson County are unaware of what the Dickinson Conservation District actually is. Some may think it is an agency of the state of Michigan, others an agency of Dickinson County. It is neither. It is an independent body, created by the state, governed by a locally elected board of directors, all of whom are county residents. It is charged with conserving and protecting the natural resources of Dickinson County.

Conservation Districts were created in the era of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. When Congress created the Soil Conservation Service, or SCS, in 1935, they knew that these federal soils experts would need the assistance of local people across the country to be able to connect with landowners for applying conservation principles to damaged lands. In 1948, Dickinson County landowners petitioned the state Soil Conservation Committee to establish a Conservation District. At an August referendum, landowners voted overwhelmingly to authorize the district, and in October 1948 the first board of directors was elected. The Dickinson Conservation District was born and the partnership with the SCS was established.

Education was an essential function of district programs and continues to this day. Teaching corrective practices for soil erosion, conservation of topsoil, working with school groups on leaf collections, supporting Envirothon teams, assisting with earth science curricula at area high schools, conducting field trips and outdoor experiences at local natural areas, such as Lake Fumee, the Norway MYR, and along Pine Creek are but a few of the many ways the District reaches out to students and residents of all ages. The Forestry Assistance Program has enabled our District to reach many county landowners with forestry advice for sound management of their woods and lands.

The spread of invasive species onto the lands and waters of Dickinson County has become a major concern in our area. In 2002, district personnel identified Eurasian milfoil in Cowboy Lake. Samples had to be hand-carried to Lansing to convince the Michigan Department of Natural Resources that our identification was correct. From this beginning, the Dickinson County Lakes and Streams Coalition was formed. This coalition galvanized around invasive species and allowed lake associations to share knowledge and resources. The Dickinson Conservation District also has reached out to neighboring counties in Michigan and Wisconsin to form the Wild Rivers Invasive Species Coalition, which includes businesses and state and federal agencies as partners, to share information and seek grants to foster monitoring and eradication efforts. The ongoing Clean Boats/Clean Waters campaign at local boat landings is just one visible part of this collective effort.

For many years the Michigan Department of Agriculture included some financial support for Conservation Districts in the State Budget. About 10 years ago the legislature began to scale back their support, and in 2009 it completely disappeared. The district also had local support from the Dickinson County Board until 2015, when their diminishing resources led them to cut many programs. The remaining significant funding source for the conservation district is the annual sale of conservation trees.

The district has been able to land a number of grants to work on stream sedimentation, forestry, invasive species monitoring and control, and other environmental issues, but grants require the district to have money on hand to begin and carry the grant work for four to five months before the reimbursement of money starts. Grant applications also require the identification of match, variable percentages of money or resources available or generated locally, as part of the total grant offered. Requirements for match put additional pressure on diminishing conservation district resources and hinder the ability to apply for additional grants. Grants also are increasingly competitive and renewals are not guaranteed.

We are requesting voter approval for 0.1 mill – or 10 cents for every $1,000 in taxable property value -for five years to give the conservation district a more stable basis for operating. To put this request in perspective, if the average home in Dickinson County has an assessed valuation of $60,000, this would amount to adding $6 to the annual tax bill. This is the equivalent of a cheeseburger meal deal once a year.

Please remember: Local efforts for local issues!