Foundation grantmaking focuses on four major program areas.
These programs touch upon a number of major issues.
Each grantmaking program also works within clearly stated geographic parameters or regions.
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We believe the need for clean, plentiful freshwater is one of this century’s greatest challenges. Securing sustainable levels of this precious resource to meet the needs of both people and nature — what we call the freshwater challenge — is a key focus of much of the Mott Foundation’s environmental grantmaking in the United States.
To that end, we’re working to help strengthen the community of nongovernmental organizations dedicated to the long-term conservation of freshwater ecosystems. We also seek to inform and advance well-designed and effectively implemented water-quality and water-quantity policies that conserve freshwater resources.
We place special emphasis on the Great Lakes region — not only because the shores of our home state of Michigan touch four of the five Great Lakes, but also because the Great Lakes are the single largest system of surface freshwater on Earth. As such, they affect the physical, social and economic well-being of tens of millions of people in and beyond the region.
The River Alliance of Wisconsin, a statewide environmental organization, has a strong commitment to improving the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. With prior Mott funding, the alliance helped increase public support for water quality protections, engaged in state processes for implementing the Great Lakes Compact, helped address aquatic invasive species issues, and participated in regional freshwater policy discussions. With this grant, the alliance will build on these efforts and also provide capacity-building assistance to watershed groups, monitor the implementation of hydropower relicenses, partner with business leaders and faith-based groups to demonstrate support for Great Lakes issues, and invest in its own organizational development.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, an independent statewide network of more than 80 groups, has had a long-term commitment to Lake Superior through its Northeast Minnesota Program. With prior Mott support, the partnership raised the profile of Lake Superior as a statewide priority, worked to improve freshwater protections from invasive species, and increased citizen engagement in the environmental review of Minnesota's first copper/nickel mining proposal. With renewed support, the organization will continue these efforts while also engaging in the review of new proposals that may pose risks to the health of Lake Superior. The organization will also build its own organizational capacity and help strengthen the capacity of partner organizations.
The Saginaw Bay drainage basin is home to more than 1.4 million residents in 22 Michigan counties. This freshwater system is compromised by pollution and habitat degradation. The Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network was launched in 1996 to improve waterway health while strengthening surrounding communities. The project is operated by The Conservation Fund, a national organization that seeks to jointly promote conservation and economic development. The organization's Michigan office, located in Bay City, oversees the network to help promote economic, environmental, and social sustainability in the Saginaw Bay area. With prior Mott support, the network increased the number of regrants made for local projects and also provided technical assistance and opportunities for public engagement. With renewed support, the network will continue this work and will also undertake strategic planning and evaluation activities.
From your perspective as a funder, how do you see the environmental movement changing and adapting?
With recent court decisions like Citizens United and dramatic changes in our political context, with the economic downturn and changing demographics, with the impacts of climate change and new pollutants being identified, old problem-solving approaches are no longer effective.
The environmental movement will need to be flexible and innovative in the coming years to maintain and expand environmental protections. I believe we craft the best solutions when we think in broader ways than we have in the past. Issues should no longer be considered solely in environmental, social or economic terms.
My role is to help environmental nonprofits build their organizational capacity, and connect with new allies, to find interconnected solutions to Great Lakes problems.
What gives you hope?
I know it may sound trite to say young people are our future, but I am truly hopeful about the next generation and its sophisticated understanding of environmental and social connections.
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Every autumn, when cold air settles over the Great Lakes region, anglers from as far away as Europe and Asia make their way to a river in west Michigan to test their skill against powerful fish known affectionately as “silver bullets.”
The prized catch is steelhead and the Muskegon River is one of the best places in America to find them, according to biologists and experienced anglers. It’s a remarkable designation for a river that carried millions of logs to sawmills in the 19th century, only to become strangled by hydroelectric dams in the first decade of the 20th century.
Dams changed the Muskegon’s natural blueprint by creating new flow patterns, altering the movement of sediment and nutrients, raising the temperature of its water, reducing the amount of oxygen available to fish, creating artificial divisions in wildlife habitat and preventing fish in Lake Michigan from reaching 79 percent of the river that is upstream of the towering structures. The result: a vital ecosystem that was profoundly changed and put at risk of significant damage.
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