to the future: Great Lakes restoration plan needs public
By Paul Smith
The Journal Times
Published August 13th, 2004
There is a saying that "change is the only constant."
For validation, one could look at the Great Lake that
breaks on Racine's shore.
Whether viewed in terms of invasive species, beach closings
or environmental contaminants, the Lake Michigan of today
is vastly different from that of 50, 20, 10 or even 5
"Nothing stands still," said Samuel Speck,
chairman of the Great Lakes Commission and an advocate
for an emerging plan for Lake Michigan restoration. "Time
is of the essence for us to deal with these issues. We
can't ask Asian carp and other invasive species to wait
at the door while we tend to other matters."
Given the reality of change in Lake Michigan the the
larger region, a coalition is forming to attempt to manage
change for the betterment of the Great Lake's ecosystem
and its human residents.
Last October, the Council of Great Lakes Governors outlined
nine broad priorities to guide Great Lakes restoration
and protection efforts. And this month, a series of workshops
will be held in Wisconsin and around the region to gather
public input on specific projects and priorities.
The workshops are sponsored by the Great Lakes Commission,
the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program, the Department
of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin Sea
The workshops are expected to draw significant interest
from many conservation, recreation, business and environmental
groups as well as individual citizens.
"I think people are coming to the realization that
competition and divisiveness are not the way to go,"
said Chuck Ledin, who oversees Great Lakes programs for
the DNR. "We see a lot of enthusiasm being generated
around the lake and people are ready to give and take
a little bit."
Second largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan covers
22,300 square miles and is the only Great Lake entirely
within the borders of the United States. As Racine residents
know, the lake is an important national resource on several
The lake supplies drinking water for 10 million people.
It also supports 43 percent of the Great Lakes' large
sport fishing industry, and means billions of dollars
not only to the economies of the four states that share
the lake, but also to the nation as a whole.
It also has experienced profound changes in its aquatic
ecosystem over the last 140 years and is threatened by
toxic pollutants that bioaccumulate in the food chain
and persist in the environment. Lake Michigan is a system
under stress because of a loss of fish and wildlife habitat,
a decline in biological diversity and the introduction
of invasive species.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more
than 160 aquatic nuisance species have invaded Lake Michigan
in the last century, causing severe economic and ecological
The nine broad priorities identified by the governors
council are: * Ensure the sustainable use of our water
resources while confirming that the states retain authority
over water use and diversions of Great Lakes waters; *
Promote programs to protect human health against adverse
effects of pollution in the Great Lakes ecosystem; * Control
pollution from diffuse sources into water, land and air;
* Continue to reduce the introduction of persistent bioaccumulative
toxins into the Great Lakes ecosystem; * Stop the introduction
and spread of nonindigenous aquatic invasive species;
* Enhance fish and wildlife by restoring and protecting
habitats and coastal wetlands; * Restore to environmental
health the Areas of Concern (AOCs) identified by the U.S.-Canadian
International Joint Commission as needing remediation;
* Standardize and enhance the methods by which information
is collected, recorded and shared within the region; *
Adopt sustainable use practices that protect environmental
resources and may enhance the recreational and commercial
value of our Great Lakes.
Several of those ring true with Craig Bender, president
of Salmon Unlimited of Wisconsin, the Racine-based sportfishing
and conservation group.
"Our five big concerns are exotic species, ballast
water regulations, sewer dumps from Milwaukee, completing
the carp barrier on the river in Chicago and making sure
the lake doesn't get drained for other people's drinking
water," Bender said.
Founded in 1973, Salmon Unlimited of Wisconsin, Inc.
has about 500 members, primarily in Wisconsin and Illinois.
The group has made significant contributions over the
years in terms of manpower and money to various fisheries
projects in the state, including more than $100,000 to
the construction of the Root River Steelhead Facility
in Racine. And in the last year, the group has donated
more than $30,000 to the DNR for projects on the Root
River and at Lake Mills State Fish Hatchery.
Naturally, the fact that any project will require funding
isn't lost on Bender.
"We try to do our part as often as we can,"
Bender said. "But these projects will be bigger,
much bigger. So funding will be a huge issue if it is
going to be a success."
Following its meeting last October, the governors council
forwarded a list of projects to Congress, which is now
reviewing a number of bills that may provide large-scale,
long-term funding for state-implemented programs for restoring
and protecting the Great Lakes.
"We see this as a project on the scale of restoring
the Everglades," said the DNR's Ledin. "It's
of national significance."
Speck, chairman of the Great Lakes Commission, hopes
such funding will be approved sooner rather than later.
"A thirsty world won't stand aside while we decide
how we're going to safeguard our resources," Speck
said. "We need to remember that environmental and
economic well-being must go hand in hand. And we need
to set our goals at a level worthy of the resource we
are responsible for."
Paul Smith covers the outdoors for The Journal Times.
You may e-mail him at: