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Save Land, Build Community

Michigan is losing its best natural areas and working farms to rapid suburban growth, second-home development far from urban centers, and a changing agriculture economy. The race to conserve outstanding lands and landscapes in Michigan is an urgent priority for many citizens and organizations. However, conventional approaches to land preservation — private stewardship and strong zoning laws — are simply not enough to protect sensitive natural resources and the character of local communities.

The Ecology Center helps local communities develop additional tools for preservation — in particular, local funding to buy land or development rights from willing sellers. Since 2000, the Ecology Center has led or co-organized five separate successful land preservation ballot campaigns in the Ann Arbor area, raising over $100 million that’s projected to save over 10,000 acres of working farms and natural areas. We’ve also helped bring together community leaders to discuss regional solutions to regional land use problems.

Ann Arbor Parks and Greenbelt Program

The Ecology Center co-directed the 2003 ballot campaign to enact this program, the largest locally-funded land preservation program in Michigan. Through the program, the City of Ann Arbor acquires parkland within city borders, and it saves natural areas and farmland in the 8-township Greenbelt District around the city. Ecology Center Director Mike Garfield chairs the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, which recommends greenbelt transactions to the Ann Arbor City Council. As of October 2006, the City had saved four farms and over 500 acres of land through the program. Learn more.

Washtenaw County Natural Areas Program

In 2000, the Ecology Center led a countywide ballot campaign to enact this program, which is also the largest program of its kind in Michigan — and one of the largest natural area preservation programs in the Midwest. The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission uses the program’s millage funds to acquire the finest natural areas in the county. As of October 2006, the County had preserved nine beautiful properties and approximately 940 acres of land through the program. Learn more.

Township Land Preservation Programs

In 2003, 2004, and 2005, the Ecology Center helped local activists and community leaders enact land preservation programs in, respectively, Ann Arbor Township, Scio Township, and Webster Township. The Ann Arbor Township program preserves farmland by acquiring the development rights from agricultural property owners. The Scio and Webster Township programs are authorized to preserve both farmland and natural areas, much like the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Program. All of Ann Arbor Township, and parts of Scio and Webster Township, are encompassed within the Ann Arbor Greenbelt District, and the municipalities are cooperating with each other on transactions.

Washtenaw Metro Alliance

In 2000 and 2001, the Ecology Center championed the idea that the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, all of the surrounding Townships, and Washtenaw County should join together to debate and resolve regional land use issues. Today, that mission has been embraced by the Washtenaw Metro Alliance, which brings together leaders from each local unit of government to “protect our quality of life by anticipating issues before they become problems, to enhance our quality of life by identifying opportunities to maintain our sense of place through commitment to leadership and action.” Learn more.

Presentations About Land Use and Land Preservation

The Ecology Center has consulted with community leaders and activists across Michigan who are trying to save the best remaining farms and natural areas where they live and work. We have also made presentations to local, state, regional, and national meetings and conferences.