Making a better future for the next generation in Michigan.

Will Michigan Be Nature Positive In 2040? Part 2

May 10, 2023 | Future, Michigan, Nature | 0 comments

Will Michigan be nature positive in 2040? “Effort equals results,” it is said. How much effort is Michigan willing to put into protecting wildlife, restoring habitats, and preventing pollution? I thought a good way to judge would be to benchmark its efforts against North Carolina, a state with a similar population, economy, and land area.

We all have a part to play in passing on a vibrant natural environment to our kids. We can make pro-nature efforts in our personal lives and organizations. Even what we plant in our gardens and yards makes a difference. Our state governments make efforts by protecting land, deploying wildlife biologists and conservation officers, creating regulations, and passing budgets. This week, I am focusing on budgets.

How do Michigan and North Carolina compare?

In general, I am surprised by how much more Michigan is investing in its natural habitats, wildlife conservation, and pollution prevention than North Carolina. I dug into the figures for the current fiscal year of both states. Wow! What a difference.

Both states had environmental expenditures strung across their departments of agriculture, natural resources, and environmental quality. By the time I identified all of them, I found that Michigan is spending over $1.4 billion, that is 2.1% of its annual budget, on environmental issues. North Carolina is spending $0.6 billion, 1.2% of its annual budget. Interestingly, Michigan’s budget passed while Republicans still had majority control of the legislature, so it wasn’t a case of Democrats going hog wild.

Here are some budget highlights and comments:

  • Michigan and North Carolina are in the same ballpark with their spending on state parks and recreation, wildlife and fisheries, forest resources, and conservation officers. No surprises there.
  • Michigan has a robust environmental stewardship program for farmers, spending $15.6 million more than North Carolina. That’s critical because the way farms take land from habitats and the pollution they sometimes release can have a devastating impact on wildlife. North Carolina should take note!
  • Michigan distributes $152.5 million more than North Carolina as grants to local governments and nonprofits for environmental projects. That allows strong participation in conservation by people with knowledge of their local environment.
  • Michigan spends more on administration of its programs than North Carolina — $95 million vs. $46 million. These figures amount to 7% of each state’s total environmental budget, so probably not a problem. Michigan just has more programs to administer.
  • Michigan spends twice as much as North Carolina on communications and customer service — $25 million compared to $13 million. Communication between government departments and citizens may be money well spent for higher levels of customer service, or it may be overkill — hard to say.
  •  Michigan spends $515 million more than North Carolina on these items: cleaning up and redeveloping polluted land, upgrading water infrastructure and assuring healthy drinking water, regulating waste disposal, measuring and regulating air quality, and regulating the oil, gas, and mining industries. Just from looking at budgets, it’s impossible to say if this is because Michigan is aiming at higher standards, or if it has more legacy pollution to deal with than North Carolina.

You can find a spreadsheet showing my figures by clicking on this link:

That’s the story in a nutshell. It looks like Michigan is making a greater commitment to the next generation by cleaning up its environment and providing better protection of wildlife and habitats. It’s difficult to make comparisons with something as complicated as a state budget. Each state has developed its own ways of describing its accounts and I may have a few items in the wrong category. That won’t change the big picture, though, that North Carolina is lagging Michigan on its environmental efforts.

What percent of annual budget is enough?

One final thought…is Michigan’s commitment to spend 2.1% of its annual budget enough to make the state nature positive by 2040? If we could interview our children and grandchildren in 2040, would they say, We wish our state had started spending 5% of its budget to improve the environment in the 2020s?

In 1996, the tiny Central American country Costa Rica made a larger commitment. It started making direct payments to land owners for environmental services including forest protection, reforestation, sustainable forest management, and agroforestry. Since then, its forest cover has recovered from 25% of its land area to 60%. When it comes to restoring our natural world, maybe we should dream big.

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