Mike Gallagher, CMF Editorial Correspondent
Finding new approaches to dealing with the many environmental issues facing Michigan in 2013 and beyond, including protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species, pollution and “water poachers”, is the mandate of Governor Rick Snyder, according to two of his top administrators.
Part of the answer to addressing these statewide problems will be found in forging strategic alliances and partnerships with Michigan foundations that are committed and dedicated to providing grantmaking support, ideas and leadership, says Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Director Dan Wyant.
Wyant and Jon Allan, director of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, met recently in Lansing with members of the Council of Michigan Foundation’s (CMF) Green and Blue Network to discuss the state of the environment and the governor’s policies and priorities for the new year and beyond.
The Green and Blue Network is a CMF affinity group whose foundation members come together to learn from experts and each other about leading environmental issues, how to make more effective and intentional environmental grants and impact environmental policy.
“My focus is on four priorities,” says Wyant, who is no stranger to the foundation sector as he previously served as president/CEO of the Edward Lowe Foundation prior to being appointed by Snyder to the DEQ post.
“I want Michigan to be a leader in environmental stewardship,” he says. “I want the DEQ to be a full partner in Michigan’s economic development and recovery. I want DEQ to be a leader in customer service. And I want the DEQ to find new ways to better share our success stories with the public.
“We want to demonstrate leadership in the preservation of our natural resources - 3,200 miles of shoreline, 20 percent of the world's fresh water, 11,000 inland lakes and streams, and a lot of farm land and forests are what make Michigan unique,” notes Wyant.
“If we do it right, it'll be the differentiation in our region for people to want to come and live, work and play in our state. We have a great opportunity to showcase these phenomenal natural resources in Michigan.”
Pointing out the political and financial realities he has to deal with to meet those goals, Wyant says DEQ has gone from 1,300 to 1,100 employees and has seen a decrease from $100 million to $23 million in the general fund that is dedicated to environmental clean-up projects.
While Wyant says neither he nor the governor expect foundations to be able to pick up the financial slack due to state budget cutbacks, “strategic, targeted grants to help support various local, regional and state environmental projects will be the key to all of our success.”
The DEQ director also pointed out “the tremendous commitment and opportunity” provided by the foundation-supported Office of Foundation Liaison (PFL), headed by Karen Aldridge-Eason and her Program Associate Maura Dewan, to bring the nonprofit sector together with government in these endeavors.
Thomas S. Porter, president, Porter Family Foundation and a founding Green and Blue Network member, had some suggestions for Wyant and Allan.
“You need to think about how to make it easier to involve our foundations in your work, including when there is a need for matching grants to secure federal funding,” says Porter. “One of the challenges for you is to ask yourselves ‘How do we do things differently? When can a grant make a difference? How do we become more engaged…and work together on issues of mutual concern?’
“We need to find a way to communicate earlier with the state on issues,” suggested Porter, agreeing that the OFL – which helped facilitate the meeting with Wyant and Allan – is an important conduit between the departments and the environmental funders.
While discussing the role of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes, Allan heralded the work and financial support of foundations on myriad past and ongoing cleanup, remediation, prevention and protection of the state’s waterways’ projects.
“These grants are so important as they help drive our communities to action,” says Allan. “We also have to realize that government sometimes simply needs to get out of other people’s way.”
State funding for such environmental projects in 2013 is expected to be an issue, warns Allan. “In the future there will probably be less money to work with. I’m sure that will surprise no one.”
Pointing out where he thought foundations could be most effective in teaming up on environmental efforts, Allan says, “We need to increase and support those individuals who will be our voice throughout the state on various projects; foundations can provide support for that.
“Also, we all need to put our heads together to find ways to create a more meaningful level of community engagement. Additionally, foundations can help us in creating programs or incentives to help nurture our future leadership to ensure we have the best people to improve our environmental stewardship.
“Finally, we in government need to better tell our stories of success,” he adds. “We need to find new and creative ways to let communities know the value of what we are doing; the need for them – and us – to think creatively; and to let them know we are doing the job for them.”
Thomas B. Cook, executive director of the Cook Family Foundation and a Green and Blue Network founding member, called the conversation with Wyant and Allan “a great opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another what we can do to move our environmental initiatives forward.”
Marlene “Marty” J. Fluharty, executive director of the Americana Foundation, agrees.
“It’s important we (state and foundations) work together on these issues,” says Fluharty. “Together we can accomplish great things!”
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