need more funding for restoration
By Babe Winkelman
Published August 12th, 2004
The Great Lakes are in trouble — big trouble. Those who
don't believe that fact are in denial.
The largest freshwater ecosystem in the world, which provides
drinking water for millions of people in the United States
and Canada, is on course for an ecological meltdown. Some
researchers believe we're already past that point, that
reversing the trend will require immediate Legislative
action — and a boatload of money.
Late last month, a coalition of hunting, fishing and conservation
groups totaling an estimated 850,000 members urged congressional
leaders to pass legislation authorizing as much as $6
billion to restore the Great Lakes, the largest surface
freshwater source in the world.
In an open letter to Congress, the coalition — which is
comprised of state and regional organizations from several
Great Lakes states, including Ducks Unlimited and Trout
Unlimited — called on legislators to support bills in
the House and Senate to restore and protect the five freshwater
lakes (Superior, Huron, Erie, Lake Michigan and Ontario).
"The lives of sportsmen are inextricably linked to
the Great Lakes," said Jordan Lubetkin, regional
communications director of the Great Lakes Natural Resource
Center for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in Ann
Arbor, Mich., one of the co-sponsors of the letter. "The
lakes are in peril. It is time for action, not words."
The announcement by the coalition came two days after
President Bush's executive order creating an interagency
task force to coordinate Great Lakes restoration activities
and develop a plan by May 2005 to protect the lakes.
While there's little doubt that such a large undertaking
requires a comprehensive plan, the environmental issues
afflicting the Great Lakes are of little mystery. Indeed,
the Great Lakes suffer from numerous threats, including
the destruction of coastal wetlands and marshes, contamination
from toxic pollution and the introduction of invasive
Throughout the Great Lakes watershed, an estimated 70
percent of wetlands have been lost, with more threatened
everyday. Wetlands and marshes provide critical habitat
for fish and waterfowl, help filter dirty water and prevent
erosion of soil and shorelines. In short, they are invaluable
In addition, toxic pollution continues to gain a foothold
in the Great Lakes by a variety of sources and existing
contaminated sites. Contaminated sediments are creating
a serious health hazard in the lakes, with state and local
officials issuing as many as 1,500 fishing consumption
advisories throughout the watershed.
Perhaps the worst problem facing the Great Lakes ecosystem
is the introduction of non-native invasive species, which
threaten not only the environment but the economy as well.
In fact, invasive species — which were transported to
the Great Lakes in ship ballast tanks from Europe and
Asia as early as the 1800s — such as sea lamprey, zebra
mussels, Eurasian ruffe, round goby, quagga mussels and
more have preyed upon and displaced fish and wildlife
populations, damaged environmentally sensitive lake shore
properties and caused a nuisance for boaters and anglers.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, the damage
inflicted by these non-native exotic invaders on "agriculture,
forestry, fisheries, public and private properties, military
installations and human health is estimated at more than
$137 billion annually."
According to 2001 statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, sportsmen and women prime the Great Lakes economic
pump as well. The annual economic impact from fishing
is more than $6.5 billion; from hunting, more than $4.89
billion; and from wildlife watching, more than $6.4 billion.
"Our concern over the Great Lakes extends beyond
the economic value of the lakes," said Paula Yeager,
executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation.
"We're fighting to uphold a way of life."
Researchers believe that a new non-native species is identified
in the Great Lakes about every seven months, an astonishing
rate. Invasive zebra and quagga mussels are also thought
to be behind the 75 percent decline of Lake Erie's famed
walleye fishery. Thousands of fish, loons, ducks and other
birds have died of botulism since 2000, according to published
reports. They become paralyzed after eating round goby
fish and quagga mussels, which are full of toxic bacteria
from the bottom of the lakes.
"With all these threats, that's why the coalition
is pushing to get legislation passed before the summer
recess," said Lubetkin of NWF. "We can't afford
to wait any longer."
In recent years, Congress has approved billions of dollars
to restore and protect some of the country's most valuable
fish and wildlife ecosystems, including the Chesapeake
Bay, the Everglades and the San Francisco Bay.
That same commitment is needed for the Great Lakes — and
sooner rather than later. I urge all of you to contact
your congressional representatives and tell them to support
the bills in the House and Senate on Great Lakes restoration.
The clock is ticking.