Great Lakes blueprint
Nature Conservancy goes beyond 'little nature preserves'
to work on saving region.
By Sue Lowe
South Bend Tribune (Indiana)
Published October 20th, 2004
The motto of The Nature Conservancy's Indiana Chapter
used to be "Quietly Preserving Indiana."
And that was how the national organization and the state
chapters used to go about things.
They took donations and quietly bought land, mostly wilderness
land, with the goal of preserving the biodiversity of
They're still doing that -- buying only from willing
But they're not so quiet any more.
"We have evolved past setting up these little nature
preserves," said Indiana State Director Mary McConnell.
"Buying land is important. But you can't buy all
the land. If you can influence how the land is used. ..."
"We need more awareness-raising," said John
Andersen, the conservancy's Great Lakes director.
The two took the recent opening of the "Preserving
Place: Reflections of Indiana" exhibit of photographs
at the South Bend Regional Museum of Art as an opportunity
to meet with local conservancy members.
Anderson said he and scientists employed by the conservancy
are working with other scientists to determine how best
to preserve the Great Lakes region.
He said that because the conservancy's approach is based
on science, he has been invited to testify before Congress
and to speak to and work with other groups.
They're studying not just the lakes themselves but also
the land around them.
Andersen said the rivers that empty into the lakes and
the land they drain are part of the Great Lakes basin.
The quality of the groundwater and the lakes and streams
of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties and all of southwestern
Michigan affects the quality of the water in Lake Michigan.
Andersen said there are three major threats to all of
the Great Lakes area -- habitat destruction, altered hydrology
and invasive species.
Habitat destruction is caused by agriculture and by housing.
Andersen said not all agricultural practices are incompatible
with preserving the environment, but some are.
A conservancy staff member is working with farmers to
find practices that will benefit both them and the environment.
Placing buffer strips of natural planting along streams
and making sure natural drainage channels work are two
practices being used.
"They're keeping soil on the land," Andersen
said. "The farmer gets to keep his soil and keep
his profit. Everybody wins."
The building of homes also can destroy the natural homes
of native plants and animals.
"We're loving our coastlines to death," Andersen
said. "There are very few wild coasts left."
The conservancy has worked with scientists throughout
the Great Lakes to come up with a "conservation blueprint
for the Great Lakes" that identifies more than 270
areas critical to the preservation of biodiversity within
the U.S. part of the Great Lakes.
Only 5 percent of those areas are protected from destruction.
Andersen said the conservancy is working to educate people
on the need to preserve those areas.
Altered hydrology is a problem many people don't think
about. It means changes in the amount of water and the
speed of its flow in lakes and rivers.
Andersen said the natural change in the rate of flow
and depth of rivers and the Great Lakes themselves are
cyclical, and some species depend on those changes.
Those natural cycles are disrupted by cities, farmers
and industry removing water from underground aquifers,
streams, rivers and the lakes themselves.
The leaders of the eight states and two Canadian provinces
on the Great Lakes reached an agreement earlier this year,
called the Great Lakes Charter Annex, on how they would
like to control removal of water from the Great Lakes.
Under that agreement, anyone who removes more than 100,000
gallons of water a day must meet several criteria, including
a requirement that the withdrawal not harm the Great Lakes
Anyone who removes more than five million gallons of
water a day also must make ecological improvements to
the Great Lakes system, something like wetlands creation.
"They're asking that you improve the resource (if
you use enough water)," Andersen said. "This
hasn't been done anywhere else in the world."
The five-million-gallon-a-day rule probably is not going
to apply to any public or private entity in north central
Indiana or southwestern Michigan.
The legislatures of the eight states, two provinces and
the U.S. Congress must approve the agreement.
Every seven months, another non-native species of plant
or animal is introduced into the country, according to
He said 70 percent of them come hidden in ships that
enter the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Zebra mussels are among the better known of the invasive
species in the Great Lakes.
They came in ballast water, water pumped into the hold
of a ship to provide stability.
They muscle out native mussels and multiply so fast they
clog any inlet or outlet pipes on the Great Lakes.
In another example, it is hoped an electronic fish barrier
to be installed in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal
will keep another invasive species out of the Great Lakes.
Andersen said bighead carp were brought to this country
to be raised in fish farms for human consumption.
The hitch is that some escaped and started taking over
the habitat of native fish in the Mississippi River.
The Great Lakes director said scientists working both
for and with the conservancy are trying to identify areas
that are or might become important to migrating birds.