All posts by Kelcie Sweeney

Annual Conference Eventful for Staff and Board

Each year the staff and board attend a conference in Bellaire, Michigan at the end of October. This meeting is organized by conservation district partners, such as the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts (MACD). It hosts the annual MACD business meeting and has many educational opportunities for conservation district staff and board members. At this year’s Annual Meeting, Clinton Conservation District’s board treasurer, Elaine Brown-Bartholic, was elected to represent conservation districts statewide as Vice-President of MACD. Clinton County will surely benefit from Elaine’s expertise and representation of conservation at the state and regional level.

During the three-day conference, staff attended field trips and sessions to learn more about new tools, construction and forest management. There were also many opportunities to network with other conservation district employees and board members. Often conversations with other districts help us discover new ways of doing things that have worked well for districts and farmers in other parts of the state.

Back, L to R: Elaine Brown, Seth Gibson, Erik Bak, Gary Boersen
Front, L to R: Kurt Wolf, Kelcie Sweeney, Rebekah Faivor, Katie Hafner

The annual conference is also an opportunity to recognize the great work conservation districts, staff and board members are doing statewide. This year, Clinton Conservation District staff member Katie Hafner was recognized for her first-year achievements. The Seedling award is given to a conservation district staff member in their first year of service who has supported the community where they work and been an exemplary employee. Katie joined us in January to support the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and programs in the Maple River watershed. Congratulate Katie on her achievements next time you’re in the office!

Kelcie Sweeney, Executive Director

More Than Just A Sport

Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

I’ll never forget the culture shock that I experienced during my first few weeks of college. As you would expect, moving from a small rural town of 1,200 people to the largest university in the state came with more than a few adjustments. I just never thought that casual conversation during the fall would be one of the most glaring differences. I quickly realized that I was the only one out everyone that lived with who hunted regularly. Sure, there were one or two of them who had been out hunting before, or still made it out one weekend each fall, but it was clear that their interests were elsewhere. My first few conversations about hunting ended with the other party asking some variation of, “Is there anything else to do in your hometown?” It didn’t take long to notice that I was the outlier in this pseudo-random sample of my peers.

The fact is that hunter numbers are on the decline, plain and simple. A survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that only 5% of Americans 16 and older hunt. Half of what it was 50 years ago, and the decline is only expected to accelerate. Now if you’re a hunter reading this, it’s easy to think, “That’s good for me, right? More space and game for me to hunt,” which may be true, but at what cost? Sportsmen dollars make up most of the funding for our state wildlife agencies and our country’s conservation system. Most are surprised to learn that roughly 60% of the funding for state wildlife agencies comes from license fees and taxes on guns, ammunition, and fishing equipment. The equation is a simple one, less sportsmen equals less conservation dollars. While we haven’t quite reached the tipping point, the projections based of the recent decline in hunters say that it’s not far off.

What does this mean for the future of the sport then? It doesn’t mean that state conservation agencies are going anywhere anytime soon, but they may have to look for funding elsewhere if the trend continues. Though hunter numbers have been on the decline, the number of individuals participating in non-revenue generating activities such as bird-watching, hiking, and paddling have been on the rise. As much as state agencies would like to keep these activities free, they may need to tack on fees or licenses to these or other forms of recreation in order to continue managing our state’s natural resources.

First Goose – Photo by Patrick Gibson 2007

As hunters, it’s our job to lead by example. Fall is a great time to introduce someone new to the sport. Mild temperatures and small game seasons make it easy and fun to take someone out for their first hunt. With programs like the Hunter Access Program (HAP), youth hunts, and the apprentice hunter options, it is easier than ever to get someone started. Growing up hunting taught me how to respect nature. It opened my eyes to just how complex this mechanism we refer to as the great outdoors really is. Aldo Leopold said it best when he said, “I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”

Seeing the Hearts of Farmers

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

When my husband Steven and I started dating, he took me to the Mid-Michigan Old Gas Tractor Show in Oakley to watch him pull his Oliver 77. He had rebuilt the tractor almost entirely himself. We were 16 years old and he had bought the tractor stock, rusted, and run down. For almost a year, he did all the things you needed to do to get it to be a “pulling tractor”.
I don’t really know the details. I grew up in a small town, but not on a farm. Farming was almost entirely new to me. The show filled with hundreds and hundreds of people that came from near and far to watch and compete in different types of pulls. Drivers pull heavy loads with antique gas tractors different distances to see who’s has the most power. I was standing by his mom off to the side and Steven was riding up to get in line to pull.
Just as he was half way across the field, POP. Everyone ducked for cover, because the noise was as loud as a gunshot. But it wasn’t. It was Steven’s tractor tire. He looked up at me across the field with a shocked look of embarrassment and disappointment that his whole year of wrenching was all for nothing. I gave him the same look back because I knew how hard he had worked to now miss his chance to pull, which was only 5 minutes away.
Everyone was now looking at him, as he sat in the middle of the grass lot with his head down trying to limp his Oliver off to the side. I started to walk up to him but stopped when I saw about 20 farmers (some we knew and some we didn’t) run toward him to help.
In just a few seconds, someone was jacking the tractor up to get the tire off. Someone else was running for the announcer’s booth to try to get him put later in the line-up. Two or three people are already calling around to see if one of their friends has a spare tire. A pickup truck pulls up a guy yells, “Get in, we are going to get you a new tire!” Steven hops in and off they go.
By the time they get back, the other guys had already gotten the tire off and ready for a new one. A group of people was standing there waiting to man handle this giant tire off the trailer. They maneuvered it around and got it on his Oliver. Steven hops on his tractor and races up to the pulls where he makes it just in time.
I just sat there dumbfounded, with a big lump in my throat holding back the tears. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It looked like a NASCAR pit stop, it happened so fast. In what other competition would competitors help each other like that? Why would a whole group of guys we didn’t know spring in to action without being asked? Why would adults help a teenager with just an average pulling tractor?
Because they are farmers and that is what they do.
That day I decided that there were no hearts as big as those of farmers. Neighbors helping neighbors; lending equipment, lending a hand. Marrying into a farming family, I am constantly reminded of the kindness farmers show toward one another as well as the community.
One of the biggest things I have learned working at the conservation district is that most of our customers show the same compassion as we were shown that day at the tractor pulls. Through this year’s wet spring, failed crops, and prevented plant acres, many producers have worked together. They have shared cover crop seed, planted each other’s fields, and made sure all the livestock were fed. Why?
Because they are farmers and that is what they do.

Save Michigan’s trees from forest pests – Your firewood choices matter

Erin Pavloski, Regional Invasive Species Coordinator, Mid-Michigan CISMA

Your cut firewood may seem healthy, but invasive forest pests and diseases can be lurking inside. How can we protect the forests we love? Don’t move firewood.

October is Firewood Month and it is a great time to remind us of the simple actions we can take to help reduce the spread of forest pests and diseases, like beech bark disease or oak wilt, or keep new pests from entering Michigan, like Asian longhorned beetle or spotted lanternfly. You can help by:

  • Leaving firewood at home
  • Gathering firewood at your campsite, if permitted
  • Buying local firewood where you’ll burn it
  • Buying certified firewood
  • Leaving unused firewood at your campsite- don’t take it home

Remember, your firewood choices matter and can save trees from forest pests! Learn more at and


Eric Bak, MAEAP Technician

As the days get shorter and the nights get a little cooler, many people are starting to notice the presence of different insects invading trees and smaller plants.  Recently, in Clinton County, sawflies are an insect of concern.

Sawflies are in the same order as bees, wasps and ants. The eggs hatch into small caterpillars that feed on plants in several different ways depending on the species.  The larvae are typically herbivores and feed on the foliage of trees and shrubs.  Sometimes they are leaf miners, stem borers or gall makers.  The name sawfly comes from the appendage that protrudes from the abdomen of the female which is used to cut into plants where they lay their eggs.

A light infestation may cause only a little aesthetic damage that can be easily removed through pruning or, when possible, by hand.  In large numbers, the sawflies can seriously damage or even kill a tree.

The best time to control sawfly is when you first notice the larvae infesting the tree or plant.  The natural insecticide spinosad, a bacterium, will control sawfly larvae.  The insecticide malathion is also an effective control.   Bt (Bacillus thuringensis), which is an effective natural control for true caterpillars is not an effective control for sawfly larvae.  It is also a good practice to make sure the plants are properly watered and fertilized, to keep them from becoming stressed.

Thanks to local residents David Main for the great photos (even though we are sorry to see the damage to your poor pine!) 

For more information on sawflies:

Why are all my Blue Spruce Dying?

Katie Hafner, Soil Conservationist

One of the most common tree questions we get is, “Why don’t you sell blue spruce at your tree sales?”

It is no coincidence. Most conservation districts avoid blue spruce on purpose! In Michigan, there are many factors that compete against the tree and have caused survival rate to drop.

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) were widely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, being one of the more popular landscape and backyard trees planted. Due to that “overuse”, many diseases and pests associated with blue spruce have also flourished.

The tree is not native to Michigan or much of the east coast. Colorado Blue Spruce is, to no surprise, native to Colorado and much of the west mountainous region of the U.S. It likes dry weather and sandy soil. Much of lower MI has heavier soils and lay. These poorly drained soils hold in water, keeping tree roots wet. In general, blue spruce do better in nutrient-poor and well-drained soil. Poorly drained soils stress the trees and welcome pests and disease.

Many of the blue spruce around my house are in sandy soil, they are still dying. The trees are dropping needles fast- this is due to one of several needle-cast diseases. The disease lives on the current year’s shoots and, the following year, the needles will shed leaving the branch bare.

Canker disease can be identified by the presence of excessive sap over the trunk and base of the tree. This is caused by a fungi (who thrive in wet weather). Three common ones are Phomopsis, Cytospora, and Diplodia.

It is easy for insects to colonize and thrive on an already stressed tree. Gall adelgids suck plant sap on the young plant shoots and create gulls that will deform the tree. Spruce spider mites cause the needles to discolor and fall off. Sometimes this can be confused with needle-cast.

If you have blue spruce in your yard, it is almost certain they will eventually feel the effect of one of these pests and ultimately die prematurely. Trimming the dead and diseased branches can help slow the spread of infestation. I usually burn the branches in my fire pit so whatever pest is on them will not continue to live as they would if I threw them in a brush pile. Unfortunately, there are no real silver bullet to fixing failing blue spruce trees. Arborists or landscapers can spray them, but it is costly and depending on the site and soil conditions, treatment may not help.

By replacing your trees with conifer species that are more suited for Michigan climate, soils, and weather. We have several species available at our fall native plant and tree sale this year. Ordering can be done by phone, walk-in, or website until September 20th. Limited quantities of trees and quart size native plants will be available for sale at pick-up day on Friday, October 4th at Smith Hall-Clinton County fairgrounds from 12-6.

More information on your poor blue spruce trees can be found in a great MSU Extension article:  What is Spruce Decline & What Should You Do About It – MSU Extension

Invasive Japanese knotweed: Now is a great time to spot it

Erin Pavloski, Regional Invasive Species Coordinator, Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area,

It’s September and the time of year that invasive knotweed is in bloom. Now is a great time to spot Japanese knotweed and report it to the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN, miss-UN). You help the Mid-Michigan CISMA by reporting to MISIN using the smartphone app, or online at

Japanese knotweed in bloom, Clinton County (9-3-2019)

Japanese knotweed, also known as “Michigan bamboo,” is a perennial, herbaceous shrub. It can invade a wide variety of habitats and tolerate different soils. This invasive species can spread by plant fragments, so it is important to not mow, cut, till, or dig this plant during its active season. Still not sure how to properly identify Japanese knotweed? Click HERE to do a brief training module.

The Mid-Michigan CISMA is funded in part by the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program (

Michigan, the great lakes state?

Resource links provided at the end of this article.

Water Resources Coordinator, Seth Gibson

When you think of the State of Michigan, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? While some of you may automatically think of ‘Better Made’ potato chips or superman ice cream, most of you probably think of our richest natural resource, water. The cold, deep waters of Lake Superior all the way to the warm, shallows of Lake Erie and every little stream and county drain in between that help make Michigan the freshwater capital of the world. People even refer to us as “The Great Lakes State” due to our land mass making contact with five out of six Great Lakes. But are we really the great, lakes state?

To sum up the current state of our water quality in one word, it’s crappy. The Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy sets thresholds for activities under certain concentrations of E. coli in the water. The threshold for total body contact is 300 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 mL of water and partial body contact is 1000 cfu per 100 mL of water. This means that once you have a concentration of 300 cfu or greater you shouldn’t swim or do activities where you come into direct contact with the water, and at 1000 cfu you should avoid things such as boating and swimming, and, generally, don’t touch the water at all. The fact that water samples taken from Michigan waterways routinely come back over 1000 cfu with several sites averaging (30 day geomean) well over the partial body contact standard, should make any resident that utilizes Michigan’s waterways angry. Even more surprisingly, DNA analysis on samples have determined that a large portion the E. coli is human sourced.  Due to the nature of E. coli and the sampling results, the best explanation for the concentrations of it in rivers and streams is failing septic systems.

This is largely because Michigan is the only state in the country without some kind of enforceable standard that septic systems must be held to. Yes, you read that correctly, the state with a majority of our country’s fresh water does not require on-site wastewater treatment systems to be maintained. While some counties manage them on a local level, only a handful of Michigan’s 83 counties have instated some sort of legislation to establish an enforceable standard. The Barry-Eaton time-of-sale or transfer (TOST) ordinance is commonly used as an example of what not to do in local management – the ordinance was repealed in 2018 on the grounds that it was more costly than it needed to be.

Cost seems to be the only parameter that comes up in conversation about septic systems, not the fact that 2,566 (27%) of septic tanks evaluated required corrective action with 243 of them discharging untreated waste onto the ground surface just in two of Michigan’s counties (from the decade of Barry-Eaton TOST data, see link below). Without a statewide standard to hold septic tanks to, the problem will get worse as septic systems age and continue to degrade.  

The most popular counterargument for any local or statewide code is the cost of replacing a septic system or drain field. Though this can be expensive, the one-time cost is still less than most people will pay in sewer bills over the life of the system. More importantly, the focus should be on who is currently covering the cost of the failing systems — anyone that utilizes Michigan’s waterways,  sources drinking water from rivers or irrigates with surface water.

The problem is only going to progress as time goes on unless we can make a change in the way things are currently done. As the great philosopher Aldo Leopold once said, “The land ethic is a product of social evolution because nothing so important is ever ‘written’…it evolves in the minds of a thinking community.” Can we come together as a community and help ensure that we stay the great, lakes state?

Lake Huron – Hammond Bay Biological Station, June 2016


Achoo! Goldenrod or ragweed? Know the difference to help pollinators and reduce allergies

Kelcie Sweeney, Executive Director

Showy goldenrod in bloom

Both ragweed and goldenrod are in bloom right now, but only one is likely causing your sneezing.  Both plants produce a ton of pollen – great for pollinators who are starting to store up for the upcoming winter. But for allergy sufferers, high levels of pollen can cause all sorts of problems. Sneezing, runny noses and blurry eyes, just to name a few.  Goldenrod is often mistakenly blamed by allergy sufferers because it is more visible and blooms the same time as ragweed.

But goldenrod probably isn’t the culprit, unless you just rolled through a field of it.

Ragweed in bloom

The size of goldenrod’s pollen is too large for it to travel far without the help of pollinators.  Ragweed has small pollen easily carried by warm summer breezes. Up to 400 of miles, say some sources. While ragweed is native to North America, there has been an increase in the plant’s size and pollen count over the last few decades as temperatures have risen across the country. This trend is expected into the future.  Many varieties of ragweed are resistant to common herbicides which poses an obstacle if you want options to control ragweed around your home.  If you choose to pull ragweed, do so thoughtfully, ragweed spreads most commonly by root fragments.

High pollen levels are temporary.  Doing outdoor activities first thing in the morning when pollen levels are at their lowest can help reduce the impact on allergy sufferers. Knowing the difference between goldenrod and ragweed can also help you decide where to spend your time outdoors.

To plant goldenrod or other native plants for pollinators this fall, visit our online store:

Learn more: