No one said it would be cheap
Outdoors with Babe Winkelman
By Babe Winkelman
Posted August 23, 2005
And no one said that it would be easy to get federal and
state lawmakers to fund the ambitious restoration plan,
at least on the scale that conservation officials say
is needed to combat what ails the vast Great Lakes ecosystem.
Allow me to explain.
In early July, federal officials unveiled a comprehensive
$20 billion plan that is the best hope to date to clean
up the Great Lakes, one of the world's largest freshwater
The draft plan, slated to be finalized later this year
after a 60-day public comment period and a series of public
meetings throughout the Great Lakes region, calls for
preserving and restoring wetlands, improving land-use
practices, stopping new invasive species and cleaning
up polluted sites. The draft plan would, at least on paper,
go a long way toward addressing many of the environmental
needs that are inextricably linked to the fortunes of
hunters and anglers, not to mention the economic interests
of the storied region.
"The draft plan is a very solid vision for how we
can restore the health of the Great Lakes," said
Jordan Lubetkin of the National Wildlife Federation, which
is part of a large coalition of conservation, government,
business and agricultural groups supporting the plan.
"A plan of this magnitude is going to need champions
in and outside of the Great Lakes. The time to act is
now. The Great Lakes desperately need the help."
But one prickly question remains unanswered: Will the
federal government, as well as the eight states that border
the Great Lakes, have the foresight to work together and
pony up the money for the plan?
That, natural-resource officials say, is the Big Question.
If history is our guidepost, securing adequate funding
for the plan will be difficult.
Over the years, several well-intentioned Great Lakes restoration
plans have withered on the vine. Three years ago, for
example, Christie Whitman, former administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced the Great
Lakes Strategy, a study that brought a hodgepodge of federal
and state agencies together and set goals for improving
the Great Lakes environment and preventing the spread
of invasive species.
The fanfare surrounding the announcement quickly gave
way to reality. In short, too few dollars were approved
for many of those initiatives.
The most-recent plan, the release of which has been rumored
for months, was put into motion in spring 2004, when President
Bush essentially ordered federal agencies to form a task
force — the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration — to develop
a blueprint for restoring and enhancing the Great Lakes.
The Collaboration, as it's called by many conservation
officials, is different than other Great Lakes plans because
it is more comprehensive and has the tacit support of
the Bush administration — a big deal. Also, the task force,
which is led by the EPA, has done a good job of working
with tribes, states, cities, environmental and conservation
groups and other bodies that have a stake in the plan.
Any talk of funding, however, will likely be shelved until
the plan is finalized, though the draft has specifics
on where the money should come from. According to the
draft, the five-year price tag is about $20 billion, with
various federal sources chipping in $13.6 billion and
state and local governments making up the difference.
There's also Legislation pending in Congress that calls
for $4 to $6 billion to restore the Great Lakes. While
that's a good start, more money is needed, and will be
sought, conservation officials say.
The draft plan has roughly 40 separate recommendations
for how to improve the environment of the Great Lakes.
For example, the report urges a crackdown on ocean-going
ships that dump ballast water into the lakes, a leading
suspected carrier of harmful non-native exotic species,
such as zebra mussels. The issue of exotic species is
perhaps the most important, not to mention the most perplexing,
issue facing the Great Lakes, natural resource officials
say. Let's face the facts: The United States needs a common
sense federal law to regulate ballast water discharges.
Short of that, the Great Lakes, as well as other U.S.
waterways, will continue to see the proliferation and
spread of unwanted exotic species.
Other key recommendations for the plan include:
• The restoration of 550,000 acres of wetlands and other
important fish and wildlife habitat, as well as 1 million
acres of streamside buffers to reduce erosion and improve
• Upgrading and modernizing municipal sewer systems to
stop the overflow of raw sewage into the Great Lakes system,
which often prompts beach closures and other environmental
• Reducing discharges of mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other
harmful chemicals into the lakes.
• Accelerating the cleanup of 31 toxic pollution spots.
The new Great Lakes restoration plan is an ambitious and
comprehensive attempt at cleaning up the Great Lakes ecosystem,
a national treasure that deserves action and support.
The groups and agencies that put the plan together deserve
high praise. The plan reminds me of similar federal ecosystem-based
restoration plans for the Florida Everglades and Chesapeake
Let's make sure the Great Lakes get the $20 billion they
so richly deserve.
Babe Winkelman is a nationally known outdoorsman who has
been teaching people to fish and hunt for 25 years. Watch
his award-winning "Good Fishing" television
show on WGN-TV, Fox Sports Net, The Men's Channel, Great
American Country Network and The Sportsman's Channel.
Visit www.winkelman.com for air times.