Leaving a Legacy for Us All to Honor
May 5, 2018
All of us in the conservation world lost a good friend this past week in the passing of Patty Birkholz. Patty was a public servant at numerous levels, a caring and passionate conservationist, but above all a decent and civil human being who respected and honored the process of lawmaking with her relationships of trust and friendship.
I had the privilege of working with Patty as counsel to the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee during her two terms in the Senate. Patty set an aggressive agenda working with both Republicans and Democrats to write landmark legislation that will bear her legacy well beyond anything we do to memorialize her.
With the leadership of Rebekah Warren in the House and Governor Granholm, Patty led the charge to pass the Great Lakes Inter-basin Compact and Michigan became the first state to implement it with a science-based and highly-acclaimed water withdrawal assessment tool.
In response to continued threats of aquatic invasive species in our Great Lakes, Patty sponsored legislation that put Michigan in a leadership role in tightly regulating ballast water in ocean-going vessels.
Faced with declining revenue for our state parks, Patty took on the task of completely rewriting the state’s funding mechanism by again working across the aisle to forge the Recreation Passport. This work was done despite significant concerns from both the Governor’s office and interest groups who doubted the ability of the program to adequately fund our parks.
Also to her credit, Patty forged new pathways in energy policy, land use planning, recycling, wetland protection, health care and so much more. She was a visionary and a leader.
As I reflect on the time I spent with her the most important memory I have is of a person whose life was based on friendship and civility. Patty was a gatherer of good people. She built friendships and cobbled together teams of diverse political and policy interests to fashion laws that had the best interests of the state in mind. Reaching across the aisle to make friends and build policy was as easy for her as picking out another purple suit to wear.
Michigan is a far better place today because of her work and those of us who knew are so much richer for the experience.
God bless her soul.
Executive Director, Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance