Morgan assumes role of ‘District Forester’

By Cathy Taylor

Review Correspondent

There’s a fresh new face at the Clare Conservation District office in Harrison.  Carli Morgan assumed  the role of District Forester for Clare and Gladwin counties this past October and found plenty of work waiting for her when she arrived.

Carli came to Michigan after working for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey in Utah and California for several years.  She is originally from Wisconsin, graduating three years ago from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Forest Science and Natural Resources program.

The District Forester is charged with the responsibility of helping landowners gain information and knowledge when making decisions about how to manage their forests.  Foresters assist with the thinning of trees on private properties as well as with reforestation projects.  They also assist with wild life management  and pest control issues. Carli plans to make on-site visits and maintain active projects such as timber sales and forest management plans as part of her duties.

“The community seems to be responding well,” commented Morgan.  “I get new calls every week with a range of issues related to forestry.  There seems to be a lot of people interested in forestry assistance programs in the county.”

Morgan continued, “This job is what brought me back to the Midwest and I’m really happy to be here.  My heart has always been in the Lake States.”

Morgan’s position was made possible through a $60,000 grant from the State of Michigan.  The Clare Conservation District realized that many privately owned forest lands within the county were not being managed efficiently.  They put together a pilot program from available funds to aid residents with their forestry issues.  The State of Michigan decided that the county met the initial criteria to qualify for phase one of the forestry grant program, which netted the District $4,000 back in 2011.  In the fall of 2012, the District was notified that they had successfully met all of the specific goals necessary to qualify for the second phase of the grant.

According to Conservation District Chairman Larry Gross, 80 percent of the $60,000 grant will go toward the Forester’s salary, benefits and taxes.  17 percent of the grant will be earmarked for mileage, supplies and miscellaneous costs related to the job.  Only 3 percent of the grant will remain available for administrative assistance.

Conservation Districts across the state have suffered greatly over the past several years due to massive budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels of government.  Nearly two years ago, the State of Michigan completely cut off funding to all of its Conservation Districts, resulting in a loss of $22,000 in operating funds for Clare County.   To make matters worse, the Clare County Board of Commissioners found it necessary to cut the District’s $3,000 allowance to balance their budget.  Since the cuts, the District has received no funding whatsoever.

“We have been living off our cash reserves for the last couple of years,” commented Gross.  “But we are gradually running out of money.”

Back in January, the Conservation District appeared before the Clare County Board of Commissioners asking for temporary financial assistance to continue operating within the county.  They reported finding themselves in “dire financial straits” due to an oversight in their bookkeeping accounts.  The Board unanimously voted to award the District $1,500, with the possibility of another $1,500 to be awarded at a later date.

The Clare Conservation District provides a vital service to the businesses, landowners and townships of this county.  Opening their doors back in the early 1940’s, the District has done an exemplary job of educating and assisting the citizens of Clare County with their conservation and environmental issues.  They maintain a knowledgeable staff that has been trained to provide natural resource management at the local level.  Keeping this assistance available at the local level is crucial to the District’s continued success.  It permits personal  one-on-one interaction between landowners and government agencies and allows the District to assess and assist with the true needs of the county.

The Conservation District has been instrumental in preventing the spread of the Emerald Ash Borers in Clare County and closely monitor the Gypsy Moth infestations.  The District has launched many necessary and effective environmental cleanup projects such as the Muskegon River cleanup and a scrap tire recycle event.    The District also provides an annual tree and shrub sale for county residents and hosts a workshop to educate citizens about native plants and fruit-bearing shrubs that are good for our wildlife.

“We are going to do everything we can to insure our services remain intact for the county,” assured District Vice Chair John Hood.  “We are in the process of planning several activities to raise money and we have been investigating the possibility of different grants to assist us with our needs.  We will find a way to provide our services to the community.  Protecting our environmental resources is very important and we want to be able to give our kids and grandkids a healthy Clare County.”