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Great Lakes Article:

Conservation program's funding likely restored
By Rob Clark
Bay City Times
Published July 19th, 2004

State lawmakers are ready to pump more money into a water-quality program that is especially popular in the Saginaw River watershed.

The state's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is set to get $4 million in funding on Oct. 1 - money that will be bolstered by federal funds and then be used to pay farmers to turn farmland into natural areas that filter pollution from groundwater.

Funding for the 4-year-old program has been suspended since 2002.

State Rep. Joseph Rivet, D-Bangor Township, said the local watershed will see the most impact from the new dollars.

"There are only three watersheds in the state that use this money and the Saginaw Bay, which is made up of 22 counties, is by far the largest watershed," Rivet said.

"Obviously, we're pleased that the money is there."

In Bay County, about 1,881 acres has been enrolled into CREP, including 1,111 acres of grassy "filter strips" and 706 acres of wetland restoration, according to Donna J. Jacobs, a program technician for the Farm Service Agency in Bay County.

One of the filter strips was planted in Bay County's Merritt Township in 2003 by Alan E. Gornowicz.

Gornowicz, who lives in Buena Vista Township and owns 220 acres of farmland in Buena Vista and Merritt townships, said he got involved in the program to benefit the environment.

"The goal was to prevent erosion and keep dirt in the field rather than in the ditches, rivers and other waterways," said Gornowicz, who retired from farming in 1991 and now rents the land to other area farmers.

"Maybe you don't eliminate the need to clean the waterways, but maybe you only have to do it every 50 years, rather than every 30 years, which is a plus," he said.

The $4 million state portion of funding will come from the Clean Michigan Initiative, a state program established in 1998 to protect water resources, according to Gordon M. Wenk, deputy director of the state Agriculture Department's Environmental Stewardship Division.

Funding must be approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"There is no one attempting to remove or reduce that funding," said state Sen. James A. Barcia, D-Bay City. "Even in these difficult budget times, this is a program that is beneficial and cost-effective."

Barcia called the new CREP funding a "win-win" for landowners and the environment.

Wenk said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency has already pledged to match any new state funds at a four-to-one ratio.

That would bring the total amount of new funding for CREP to at least $20 million.

CREP pays Michigan farmers and landowners, located in the Saginaw Bay, Lake Macatawa and River Raisin watersheds, to take farmland out of production for 15 years and establish filter strips, wind breaks, wetlands, riparian buffers and other wildlife habitats.

The program provides reimbursement funds for expenses related to the conversion of the land, as well as money to pay farmers an annual stipend for maintaining the land during the length of the contract.

Since being put on hold, upward of 150 farmers in Bay and Arenac counties have expressed interest in the program, according to Kevin J. Wilson, CREP technician for Bay and Arenac counties.

"I have a huge list of farmers interested and waiting for the program to receive new money," Wilson said. "There are some other federal programs for establishing environmentally friendly practices, but the payments are not as good."

Gornowicz's filter strip contains three types of native grass - big blue stem, little blue stem and Indian - and more than a dozen varieties of wildflowers.

Gornowicz is paid about $170 per acre each of the 15 years he maintains the filter strip. He said the annual stipend is important.

"I don't think that anyone would have done this without some form of compensation," he said.

Wilson, the local CREP technician, said once funding is in place, landowners can begin enrolling new acres into the program and can start establishing their wildlife habitats.

For information about CREP, visit or call Wilson at the Bay County Soil Conservation District office at 684-1040.


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