Legacy goes to D.C. – Capitalizing on a trip to the Capitol (Part 1 of 2)

By Susan LaCroix, Land Protection Director

Susan LaCroix outside in front of US Capitol Building

Susan LaCroix at US Capitol Building

In April, I was afforded the opportunity to represent Legacy in Washington D.C. as hundreds of land trust staff, volunteers, and board members from around the country arrived at the Capitol to advocate for legislation that is critical for us all to succeed in our work together.

It was a jam-packed trip with a full agenda, and I did so much in just a few days!

The Land Trust Alliance (LTA), of which Legacy is a member, works with land trusts nationwide to set and advocate for policy priorities that are meaningful for the community as a whole. At the top of the priority list this year is passing an updated Farm Bill. And thanks to the organizing efforts of LTA and their staff, Legacy was proud to participate as one of three land trusts from Michigan at the 2024 Land Trust Alliance Advocacy Days.

Having never been to D.C. but studied political science in college and loving shows like West Wing and Madam Secretary, I was thrilled for the opportunity to be part of the political process for something I love and dedicate my life to–environmental conservation. I couldn’t wait to be in the middle of the bustling halls and marble floors I’ve heard and studied about for most of my life.

Ian Ableson from Six Rivers Land Conservancy, Susan LaCroix from Legacy Land Conservancy, and Tom Nelson from Leelanau Land Conservancy

The Michigan delegation at LTA 2024 Advocacy Days (L-R) Ian Ableson from Six Rivers Land Conservancy, Susan LaCroix from Legacy Land Conservancy, and Tom Nelson from Leelanau Land Conservancy

We were split up by state, so all the people representing a land trust in Michigan made up the Michigan delegation. Our core group consisted of myself, Ian Ableson from Six Rivers Land Conservancy, and Tom Nelson from Leelanau Land Conservancy. There were also a few LTA staff who met up with us for some of our meetings. Our mission during the week was to attend meetings at seven congressional offices with legislators and their staff to talk about our work and help them understand our legislative priorities.

During our time together, not only did we focus on the Farm Bill and specifics of the legislation that would make money available for land trusts to use on conservation easement project due diligence costs, we also thanked them for passing the Charitable Conservation Easement Integrity Act, discussed deployment of solar to ensure it’s not in conflict with land conservation goals, and explained potential benefits of creating a Forest Conservation Easement Program.

The Michigan delegation worked really well together, and I loved working with them! We took turns leading meetings depending on if the congressperson represented our service area, helped build upon each other’s points in meetings, and even carved out extra time to socialize and bond after our long days of talking to strangers. I think that comradery also helped us in our meetings. It was clear that even though we had just met, we were passionate about our work, and grateful for the support our members of Congress had given us.

When I led meetings, I highlighted two of our recent projects–Amaizin’ Pop and Iron Creek Preserve–that couldn’t have happened without federal grant programs. Amaizin’ Pop utilized Regional Conservation Partnership Program funds, and Iron Creek benefitted from funds made possible via the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

My week in D.C. is just the start of many more good things to come. I’m confident that our conversations deepened relationships with our congress people and will sow a stronger understanding of land trusts’ work not just in Michigan, but around the country.

When we open Iron Creek Preserve to the public, we will invite our local, state, and federal legislators to celebrate with us. And we will find other ways to pull them in closer to our work and show them the impact their efforts have in their districts.

Being in D.C. and seeing first-hand the impact personal conversations can have on elected officials gave me a renewed sense of adding more advocacy work on to my plate. Not only do I enjoy talking with people about conservation, but I want to help our lawmakers see and understand the successes of their work, while at the same time bringing any existing hurdles to their attention.

Want to learn more about the Farm Bill and proposed Forest Conservation Easement Program that we advocated for? Stay tuned for my next post: Legacy goes to D.C. – Advocating for conservation, focusing on Farm Bill reauthorization (Part 2)