Voters choose conservation and climate action

On November 4 residents in four watershed communities took bold steps to boost climate resiliency and protect clean water. Voters in Scio, Northfield, and Dexter townships approved property tax millages to fund land protection, while Ann Arbor voters approved a millage to fund A2ZERO, its “Carbon Neutrality Plan.” HRWC endorsed and provided support to all of these millage campaigns.

Protecting forests, wetlands, prairies, and farmland

Barton Nature Area of the Huron River by John Lloyd
Barton Nature Area of the Huron River by John Lloyd

Scio Township renewed their current land protection program again, originally approved by voters in 2004 and first renewed in 2012. Northfield and Dexter townships join existing programs in Ann Arbor, Webster, and Scio townships, the City of Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County.  Together, with support from HRWC’s Natural Areas Assessment and Protection Program (NAAP), these programs have protected over 20,000 acres of forests, wetlands, prairies, and farmland in the watershed over the last 20 years.

These programs use a small portion of household property taxes (typically about $.50 per $1,000 of taxable value) to either purchase conservation easements or land outright. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and another entity (such as a unit of government or a nonprofit land conservancy) that permanently limits the type and amount of development on their private property in exchange for payment. By entering a conservation easement agreement, landowners retain the rights of ownership they currently enjoy such as living on the property, farming, hunting, fishing, timber harvesting or selling the land. Conservation easements that restrict development rights run in perpetuity with the land and forever protect the conservation values identified in the agreement.

Landowners who want to protect their land apply to the program, then a citizen board evaluates the property based on ecological and/or agricultural criteria determined by the municipality.

HRWC’s Natural Areas Assessment and Protection program supports property owners and communities by helping them prioritize natural areas to protect. To do this, we use our Bioreserve Map, which ranks natural areas by ecological importance, paired with data from our field assessments to provide more detailed evaluations of specific properties.

Land protection and watershed health

Natural area protection is vital to watershed health. Forests, wetlands, and prairies filter pollution from stormwater runoff, keep streams running cool and constant, soak up flood waters, sequester carbon pollution, and provide endless hours of recreation and wildlife viewing.  This is especially important with erratic weather causing more flooding and other impacts. While residential and commercial development has been a constant threat to these important landscapes, climate change exacerbates that threat, as predictions show the Great Lakes will experience exponential human population growth due to climate refugees fleeing sea level rise, fires, and drought. Climate migration will likely worsen the current housing crisis. These land protection programs, in concert with local government policies that direct growth to areas where people can affordably live, work, learn, and play, will help local governments accommodate new growth while allowing forests, wetlands, and prairies to keep water clean and cool. These natural areas will also help protect surrounding areas from floods and drought while soaking up carbon.

How to get involved

Dexter, Northfield, and Scio townships are all looking for residents to serve on their land preservation boards. Check out their websites to apply.
If you have 10 acres or more of forest, wetland, prairie, or farmland on your property, consider protecting it in perpetuity. Property owners with a conservation easement maintain ownership and rights to all uses besides development. To learn about the value of the forests, wetlands, or prairies on your land, contact us for a field assessment. Go to
Get your community to enact a conservation millage! HRWC’s Conservation Millage Toolkit provides all the steps.

City of Ann Arbor voters pass the climate millage

In 2019 Ann Arbor declared a climate emergency and, soon after, created the City’s “Carbon Neutrality Plan,” named A2ZERO, to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. This is a monumental, ambitious, yet necessary task that requires substantial resources. Thankfully, Ann Arbor voters understood the need and the urgency, approving a millage to fund plan implementation. The millage funds will:

  • Move the city toward a zero waste, circular economy
  • Advance the use of renewable energy
  • Provide services to help low-income residents, including seniors, save money and improve comfort, including a net zero energy program for all affordable housing sites
  • Support energy efficiency improvements for residents and businesses
  • Advance neighborhood and community preparedness for climate change
  • Expand walking paths and bike lanes throughout the city
  • Expand EV charging access, especially for renters and multi-family developments
  • Support “beneficial electrification” of clean electric appliances and heating/cooling
  • Promote mixed use neighborhoods, affordable housing, transit hub proximity, and other strategies that make it possible for people to live where they work, learn, and play

Ann Arbor will serve as a model for other local governments, which must make similar commitments if we are to transition to a clean energy economy in time to avoid the worst climate impacts. Washtenaw County is leading the way with the passage of its own plan, which will be a resource for townships, cities, and villages within the county by providing guidance on policies and planning and by bringing communities together to combine efforts for greater effect.

Get your community involved in climate action! Check out HRWC’s Change Makers program to learn how to get involved with your local government.

—Kris Olsson

This blog post is also published in the Huron River Report, Spring 2023.