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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes need more funding for restoration
By Babe Winkelman
The Pilot-Independent
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 species.

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 natural resources.

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.


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