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Great Lakes Article:

Pollution, Invasive Species Plague Great Lakes National Parks
Environment News Service
Posted October 11, 2007

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 11, 2007 (ENS) - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan is in danger of being loved to death. High numbers of visitors are trampling down vegetation and erosion is occurring in high traffic areas. Water quality and the ecological integrity of Lake Michigan at the Dunes is in poor condition due to invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels, which have taken over most of the lakebed.

At Sleeping Bear Dunes, the toxic chemicals most present in the air are toluene, xylene-iso, benzyne, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene, xylene-m, and perchloroethylene. The sources of these pollutants have not been determined. Both sulfates and nitrates are found in concentrations higher than national averages.

Deferred maintenance costs at Sleeping Bear Dunes are about $11.2 million, while the cost of needed rehabilitation tops $8.8 million.

The plight of this national park and that of five other Great Lakes parks are detailed in a new report by the National Parks Conservation Association, NPCA. The parks studied include all four of the U.S. national lakeshores.

"The parks support a variety of wildlife, provide abundant recreational opportunities, and help support regional economies, so it is crucial that we ensure they are well protected and get the funding that they need and deserve," said Lynn McClure, NPCA Midwest regional director.

According to NPCA's Center for State of the Parks report, the six Great Lakes parks face threats from air and water pollution, non-native species that are damaging ecosystems, adjacent development, and funding shortfalls that are threatening every aspect of the parks.

Researchers used established, peer-reviewed methodologies to systemically rate conditions of both natural and cultural resources at five of these six parks; only cultural resources were assessed at Keweenaw National Historical Park.

* At Apostle Islands, there are only two permanent environmental staff responsible for protecting 21 islands spread over 265,000 acres; sandscapes and beach grasses are at risk from trampling and invasive plant species. Rare plant communities are threatened by rapidly increasing white tailed deer populations. Historic buildings at six historic lighthouses, some of which are major visitor attractions, need new roofs, painting, and other maintenance that is beyond the park staff's ability to keep pace with.

* At Indiana Dunes, pollution from ozone, sulphur dioxide, sulfate, and mercury from surrounding industrial facilities harms the air quality of the park. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is downwind of Gary, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois, a region of heavy industry. Contamination from runoff, industrial pollution, and sewage systems degrades park waters, including Lake Michigan. The park's dunes are retreating due to adjacent shoreline development that prevents the natural deposit of sand that replenishes the dunes.

* At Isle Royale, airborne mercury and sulphur dioxide that are deposited in park waters and on park lands are of grave concern to park managers; non-native species found in Lake Superior, such as the spiny water flea and sea lamprey, are threatening native fish species in park waters.

* At Keweenaw, development on private lands within and adjacent to the park, and an incomplete knowledge of those resources not owned by the park, threatens historic structures and archaeological sites. The park also lacks a visitor center, which would make information on the park available year-round and provide a place to display museum objects that are currently in storage.

* At Pictured Rocks, non-native species competing for resources with native plants and animals have contributed to a decline in species including fresh water clams and native coaster brook trout. Sensitive dune habitats are threatened by inappropriate visitor use and some critical historic structures such as Coast Guard stations and lighthouses are in poor condition. The park's museum collection, which features artifacts from shipwrecks, local logging and maritime history, and American Indian life, is not maintained at a professional level due to lack of staff and appropriate storage facilities.

* At Sleeping Bear Dunes, the invasion of species that were not originally part of the local ecosystem, including the Baby's Breath plant in the park's namesake dunes, is threatening biodiversity. The invasive mussels' feeding habits lead to other problems such as shorebird deaths from botulism, which has killed hundreds of loons.

Farms, villages, lifesaving stations and lighthouses, and prehistoric archaeological sites are all in need of maintenance.

McClure says, "Park visitors expect to find healthy ecosystems, clean air, and well-maintained historic sites, but this is not always the case. Each of the Great Lakes national parks assessed in this report faces threats on those fronts. NPCA hopes that this report will inspire people to take action to protect and preserve those parks for present and future generations."

NPCA launched its State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the health of national parks across the country. To read the full report, click here.


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