Promoting Private Land Protection in the Saginaw Bay Watershed
Saginaw Bay area,
Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy
Basin Program Funds:
Over time in the Saginaw Bay watershed, increased commercial, industrial, and residential development (particularly in desirable riparian areas) will result in significant increases in soil erosion and sediment loading from these sources. Although many landowners in the Saginaw basin have a strong interest in water quality protection and a desire to safeguard their land from ecologically harmful development, few are aware of the existence (and variety) of private land use controls available for land and water protection.
Over the past fifteen years, concerted efforts to control point source pollution in the Saginaw Basin have met with considerable success. Soil erosion and sedimentation, however, remain significant causes of water quality impairment in the Saginaw Bay. In the past few years, the control of agricultural non point source (NPS) pollution in the watershed has received some attention, particularly through the implementation of conservation farm programs. Nevertheless, water quality improvements from agricultural NPS pollution control could be nullified by increased erosion and sedimentation resulting from escalating development of open space in the watershed.
Although land protection through conservation easements and other land use controls is fairly common in some parts of Michigan, information about these land protection tools is only beginning to be disseminated in much of the Saginaw Basin.
The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy (SBLC) proposes to implement an outreach and education program beginning with non-agricultural landowners on three of the major rivers in the Saginaw Bay watershed: the Kawkawlin, the Cass, and the Au Gres. This pilot program will be refined and extended to landowners on other rivers (Flint, Rifle, Saginaw, etc.) within the SBLC service area over the next few years.
Under this project SBLC contacted key resource people who are knowledgeable about landowners and properties in the three focus areas. Contacts include current and former employees of the Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality, county and local planning officials, Natural Resource Conservation Service employees, local Conservation Districts, and area Resource Conservation and Development officials. The resource people developed a preliminary list of landowners likely to be interested in land protection. Additional landowner contacts were gleaned from information in plat books, cross-referenced with county tax rolls.
Once landowners were identified, introductory materials (letter, brochure, fact sheet) were sent to each, along with a request for a meeting to discuss land and water quality protection and conservation options. The Executive Director followed up with telephone calls. Individual meetings were arranged with interested landowners to discuss conservation, and general financial and tax issues. Board members and the Executive Director were involved in this phase of the project. Additional written materials (e.g. Preserving Family Lands I, II and II by Steven J. Small, Esq., sample conservation easement) will be provided for landowners to read and discuss with financial and legal advisors for advice specific to their circumstances. This part of the program is expected to be completed five to six months after commencement of the project.
The Conservancy will spend the remainder of the grant period working with landowners who wish to enter into land and water protection agreements with SBLC. SBLC staff and volunteers will arrange for site visits to document conservation values to be protected by an easement or property donation. Easements will be negotiated, drafted and processed.
As noted previously, this will be a pilot project for the Conservancy. At the end of the one-year project term, SBLC Board and staff will evaluate the program for efficiency and cost-effectiveness and make necessary changes before expanding the program to landowners on other rivers and streams in the watershed.
Phone calls were made to the 25 households who received the booklet "Conservation Options - A Landowner’s Guide", asking if they had any questions or would be willing to meet with SBLC staff to discuss conservation options. A reminder post card was sent to landowners who received the booklet and a year-end letter outlining the annual successes of the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy was sent to all landowners. Landowners along the designated rivers are now on and will remain on SBLC’s mailing list and will receive updates. The outreach for this project established new relationships with landowners and resource people who now know who we are and understand what we do. Increased awareness leads to greater activity, even if slow, toward our constant mission to preserve land and improve water quality. Discussions with several private land owners may lead to conservation easement agreements in the near future. Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy has recruited a Land Stewardship Committee to evaluate properties, work on management plans, and prioritize our outreach efforts.
Contact: Ms. Bonnie Marsh, 989-891-9986