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Empower Land Conservancies to Prioritize Nutrient Reduction

Year Awarded: 2023
Awarded: $1,500,000
Team Leader:  Freshwater

This team will create a new regional enterprise co-managed by land trusts that will retire and restore problematic agricultural parcels; and develop a permanent funding stream that pays for it. Farmland that contributes to nutrient pollution will be restored to native perennial vegetation in the Maumee, St.Louis, and Saginaw River watersheds. This new enterprise will be a hub for expansion across the basin and a model for other land trusts.  

 It is increasingly clear that putting “best management practices” on farmland will not solve the region’s water quality problems.  Retiring the most problematic parcels makes a permanent contribution to nutrient reduction. It also creates a multitude of co-benefits, including flood control, habitat for game, amphibians, songbirds, and pollinators, and sequestering carbon.  

The team will create this new enterprise by pursuing three workstreams.   

  • Develop a land trust community of practice with the following five land trusts who will be critical, on-the-ground partners: Minnesota Land Trust, Wisconsin Landmark Conservancy, Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, Little Forks Conservancy, and Black Swamp Conservancy.  
  • Create a technical advisory committee – including the five land trust partners – to develop an ensemble model to prioritize cropland with the highest phosphorus reduction potential.  
  • Generate a steady source of flexible funding for the land trusts that can be used for land purchase, outreach, restoration, and land stewardship to improve Great Lakes water quality.   

The project will also provide tremendous value to the Great Lakes community through the new community of practice, the land prioritization modeling results, and the increased capacity within the land trusts created by the project.