Michigan — August 23, 2013 at 11:51 am

Michigan League of Conservation Voters advocates for some of the state’s best assets


Michigan LCV helps make sure the Mitten’s natural resources are in good hands.

If you’re spending the last blast of summer enjoying Michigan’s great outdoors, you can thank the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, at least in part.

According to their website, “the Michigan League of Conservation Voters is the leading non-partisan political voice for protecting Michigan’s land, air, and water.”

Michigan LCV works both on education, to raise awareness of environmental issues, and legislation, to make sure laws are being passed that either conserve our natural resources or help prevent them from being harmed.

But they’re much more than that. They’re a dedicated team of staffers, volunteers and supporters who come together whenever an environmental issue needs to be addressed. Together, they make sure Michigan’s natural resources are being cared for — now and well into the future.

One reason Michigan LCV is successful is their commitment to being truly non-partisan, says Field Director Melissa Bernardi.

We’re very deliberate about being non-partisan. It’s the only way to get things done. The environment and conservation is not a partisan issue. We all breathe the same air.

Michigan LCV holds elected officials accountable for their environmental records and supports candidates who will be good stewards of Michigan’s natural resources without regard to party affiliation.

This non-partisan approach to political action is just one reason for Michigan LCV’s success, though. Their team approach is clearly an advantage. As Bernardi says, “We’re more powerful when we work together.”

It’s an approach that’s proven effective time and time again. One great example? The bill passed this year to allow the Department of Natural Resources to invest in 40 additional conservation officers to protect Michigan’s public land.

It wasn’t exactly an easy sell. Getting enough funding meant increasing some fees for hunting and fishing licenses. The fees hadn’t been adjusted since 1997. But, as Michigan LCV Political Director Jack Schmitt explains, getting legislators to approve what most people consider a tax can be a challenge.

The hunters and anglers agreed that raising the fees was the right thing to do — they’re some of the strongest environmental activists you’ll find. We had immediate support from some members of the House and Senate appropriations committees even before the bill went to the full legislature, but there were a few legislators that needed convincing.

Michigan LCV rallied all of its resources long before the bill came up for a vote. While Schmitt was talking to lawmakers in Lansing, Bernardi was reaching out to volunteers and supporters in the field, asking them to contact their representatives. Communications Manager Katie Sulau was sending out action alerts via email, posting updates on social media and getting stories out to the press to raise awareness of the issue.

Bernardi remembers one day in particular when teamwork helped garner more support.

Someone had seen some of our action alerts and wanted to know more about the bill, and the call came through to me. So while he’s asking me questions so he can talk to his representative about voting yes, I’m on the phone with Alicia Prygoski, our Legislative and Political Assistant, who is sending me chat messages with the legislative details I need to answer the supporter’s questions.

Michigan LCV did everything necessary to convince legislators it was a “safe” vote to take — that even if the license fees were increased, there was widespread support among voters.

When the time came for a vote, the bill was approved by the House. But when it got to the Senate, there were not one, but two tie votes, says Schmitt.

In seven years, that’s the first time I’ve seen two tie votes two days in a row on a bill. So we started making more calls and engaging the members of Michigan LCV across Michigan. We wanted the lawmakers who were on the fence to hear from their constituents that adding more conservation officers was important to them.

In the end, the bill passed and was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder in June. The Governor also signed a budget plan that invests more in Michigan’s natural resources. According to Schmitt, there’s still a long way to go — but these victories were a big step in the right direction.

After a decade of budget cuts, everyone I’ve talked to is really happy to see more investments in natural resources. It was the result of a great team effort and we’re already laying the groundwork for next year.

Bernardi agrees that collaboration among the staff and all of the Michigan LCV’s supporters is central to the organization’s success.

I left work that day that bill was signed feeling like, ‘This is why I love what I do.’ It was a great example of everyone coming together for a common goal — and getting an outstanding result.

Want to get involved? Visit the Michigan LCV website to sign up for updates, volunteer, become a member or make a donation.

[Photos by Anne C. Savage | Anne Savage Photography]