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Great Lakes Article:

An eye to the future: Great Lakes restoration plan needs public input
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 years ago.

"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 Grant Institute.

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 levels.

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 impacts.

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:


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