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Great Lakes Article:

Restoring America’s Estuaries –

A National Strategy to Restore Estuarine Habitat

CHAPTER IV – REGIONAL SUMMARIES OF

ESTUARINE HABITAT RESTORATION PLANNING

 

 

Part 6 – Great Lakes

Executive Summary

Estuarine Systems of the Great Lakes

Situated on the mid-western border between the United States and Canada, the Great Lakes is the world's largest system of fresh surface water, containing nearly 95% of the United States' supply and 20% of the global supply. Covering a surface area of 94,250 square miles and having nearly 5,500 cubic miles of water, the total U.S.-Canadian shoreline measures 10,210 miles, including islands and connecting channels (excluding the St. Lawrence River) (GLNPO, 1988). Of that figure, approximately half of the Great Lakes shoreline occurs in Canada and the other half in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

For the purposes of this discussion, the term estuary includes near coastal waters and wetlands of the Great Lakes that are similar in form and function to estuaries (Section 103(2) Estuary Restoration Act of 2000). Great Lakes estuaries and coastal wetlands play a critical role in the productivity of the lake system. These habitats differ from inland wetlands due to the influence of large-lake processes, including waves, wind-driven tides (seiches), and especially the seasonal and long-term fluctuations of Great Lakes water levels (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996).

Although activities on both the Canadian and U.S. shorelines of the Great Lakes influence coastal wetlands, and there are substantial coastal wetland ecosystems on the Canadian side, this discussion is limited to the U.S. shoreline of the Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario) and their connecting waters (St. Mary’s River, St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, Detroit River, Niagara River, and St. Lawrence River to the Quebec border).

Estuarine Habitats

 

Great Lakes estuarine systems support diverse and highly productive wetland habitats, including: marshes, shallow open water, mud flats, swamps, wet meadows, fens, and bogs. Nearshore terrestrial ecosystems include alvars, beach (with a variety of substrates ranging from rock to cobble to sand), dune and swale complexes, and forests. These ecologically significant habitats provide food, shelter, and nursery areas for a variety of fish, invertebrates, birds, reptiles, and mammals. Because of the unique formation of these ecosystems (due to large freshwater lake influences), many of these habitats are considered globally rare. Likewise, they are host to a suite of rare, threatened, or endangered species, including the bald eagle, northern copperbelly water snake, piping plover, black tern, Pitcher’s thistle, Houghton’s goldenrod, dwarf-lake iris, and the Lake Huron locust.

 

 

Links to Our Communities

 

Estuarine systems served as the focal point for settlement of the Great Lakes region by Native Americans and Europeans. Historically, due to the ecological functions they provide, estuaries have been preferred as human habitat, and today they are linked inextricably to our economy and our quality of life. The commercial success and the economic importance to the country of cities like Duluth, Green Bay, and Detroit relate directly to the ecological functions that estuaries provide. Today, coastal wetland systems contribute to residential, recreational, commercial, agricultural, and industrial activities. Habitat and water-dependent activities such as fishing, hunting, tourism, shipping, energy production, and agriculture have affected the very resources on which they depend. Throughout the Great Lakes Basin, these human activities have resulted in the substantial loss of coastal wetland habitats and the valuable ecological functions they perform.

 

 

Loss of Habitat

 

In addition to the different geological and climatic factors influencing each lake, unstable and unpredictable natural processes such as fluctuating lake levels, storms, ice, and sediment erosion and deposition influence wetland formation and processes. However, because the flora and fauna of Great Lakes estuaries have adapted to the dynamic nature of the coastal ecosystem, long-term habitat loss from natural forces have been minimal. In fact, stressors such as fluctuating Great Lakes levels contribute to a greater diversity and interspersion of habitats within Great Lakes estuaries.

However, anthropogenic processes have resulted in substantial losses of habitat. Filling, draining, and development have resulted in the direct loss of coastal wetland systems throughout the Great Lakes. Impacts have been most severe where development and industrial activity are greatest. For example, since European settlement of Ohio’s portion of the Lake Erie watershed, over 90% of coastal wetlands have been drained for agriculture, filled for development, dredged for navigation, or converted to some other use (Ohio Lake Erie Commission, 2000). In the Michigan counties surrounding Detroit and in Saginaw Bay, losses of marshland average 95% (Comer, 1996).

In addition to this historic loss of habitat, coastal wetland systems continue to be degraded by ongoing dredging and filling, mechanical removal of shoreland vegetation, exotic species, toxic loading from past and present industrial discharge, polluted stormwater runoff, and accidental discharge of sewage from combined sewage overflows. In addition to reduced populations of fish and wildlife, this ongoing legacy of abuse results in health advisories warning against eating contaminated fish and numerous beach closings each summer.

Current Restoration Efforts

From the St. Louis River estuary on Lake Superior’s west coast to the St. Lawrence coastal wetlands on the northeast coast of Lake Ontario, planning and restoration efforts are underway to protect and restore the health of Great Lakes coastal wetlands. A variety of federal, regional, and state plans address habitat restoration issues, and local entities, including governments and conservation organizations, are participating in successful restoration planning efforts. Additionally, there are many coastal wetland areas that have been researched and inventoried, or identified as needing restoration, but have yet to undergo formal restoration or management planning.

Among existing plans, common themes emerge regarding the habitat, planning, and information needs essential for effective restoration of coastal wetland structure and function. Current approaches for restoring Great Lakes coastal wetlands include hydrologic remediation (restoration of hydrologic connections to fluctuating lake levels and seiches), sedimentological remediation (to restore natural littoral processes impacted by anthropogenic shoreline modification), chemical remediation (to address former and ongoing toxic loading), and biological remediation (to curtail invasion by aggressive native and exotic species and/or restore populations of native species) (Wilcox and Whillans, 1999).

It is important to note that the Great Lakes function as one ecosystem. Efforts on the Canadian side to restore degraded wetlands have been significant and not only serve as models for estuarine restoration, but will help to address some of the ecosystem-wide perturbations that have resulted from large-scale coastal wetland loss and degradation.

Planning Needs

Certain elements of successful estuarine restoration planning, consistent with RAE’s Principles of Restoration document, are identified in almost all of the Great Lakes coastal wetland planning efforts. These include working at the watershed level, involving a broad range of stakeholders (from citizens to the scientific community) in the assessment and planning process, and a realization that protecting existing habitat is critical to the success of estuarine restoration.

Although there are some very good examples of comprehensive planning efforts, it is important to note that coastal wetland restoration planning across the Great Lakes region as a whole is still in the beginning stages. Most coastal wetland planning efforts are conducted as part of broader ecological efforts. Many estuarine systems have only recently been formally identified as target areas for protection or restoration by agencies or non-governmental organizations. The Pigeon River Estuary in northern Minnesota is an excellent example of a site identified but for which planning is only in the very beginning stages. Furthermore, the science of wetland restoration, as a branch of applied ecology, is still in its infancy. Although this is true of all wetland systems, it is perhaps especially true in Great Lakes coastal systems. In order to fully realize the benefits of resources available for restoration, there is a need to commit substantial resources to restoration planning.

Introduction to the Great Lakes Region

Description

Situated on the mid-western border between the United States and Canada, the Great Lakes is the world's largest system of fresh surface water. These “Sweetwater Seas” contain nearly 95% of the United States' supply of fresh surface water and 20% of the global supply. The Great Lakes extend approximately 850 miles east to west and 700 miles north to south. Covering a surface area of 94,250 square miles and having over 5,500 cubic miles of water, the total U.S.-Canadian shoreline measures 10,210 miles, including islands and connecting channels. Of that figure, approximately half of the Great Lakes shoreline is in Canada and the remainder occurs in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Although each of the Great Lakes has its own separate characteristics, they are all part of one massive integrated water system. The lakes act as their respective drainage for their tributary waters. Lake Superior drains to Lakes Huron and Michigan (which are at the same level) through the St. Mary’s River. Lakes Huron and Michigan drain to the south and east though the St. Clair River into Lake St. Clair and then through the Detroit River to Lake Erie. Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario via the Niagara River. Together, the lakes discharge 6.5 billion gallons every hour into the St. Lawrence River at the east end of Lake Ontario (EPA, 1980).

For the purposes of this discussion, the term estuary includes near coastal waters and wetlands of the Great Lakes that are similar in form and function to estuaries (Section 103(2) Estuary Restoration Act of 2000). Great Lakes coastal wetlands differ from inland

[Insert Great Lakes Region Map Here]

wetlands due to the influence of large-lake processes, including large waves, wind-driven tides (seiches), and especially the seasonal and long-term fluctuations of Great Lakes water levels (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996).

Seiches with an amplitude of 20 to 30 cm and period of 4 to 14 hours occur regularly on the Great Lakes or within large embayments. Extreme seiches have been recorded on Lake Erie with amplitudes as great as 5 meters. Great Lakes levels fluctuate annually, in periods of 30 years, and periods of 150 years. Annually, high lake levels occur in early summer and low lake levels in early winter. The range between annual highs and lows since 1918 to present varied from as little as 1.19 m on Lake Superior to as much as 2.04 m on Lake St. Clair (USACE 1999, in Wilcox and Whillans, 1999). During the past 4,700 years, short-term fluctuations with a range of .5 to .6 m occurred about every 30 years and longer-term fluctuations occurred with a range of .8 to .9 m about every 150 years (Wilcox and Whillans, 1999).

Although there are substantial estuarine systems on the Canadian shore, and the ecosystem processes that are influenced by the lakes do not respect political boundaries, this discussion is limited to coastal wetlands on the U.S. shoreline of the Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario) and their connecting waters (St. Mary’s River, St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, Detroit River, Niagara River, and St. Lawrence River).

In 1981, Herdendorf et al., surveyed and mapped all wetlands greater than one acre in size that occur wholly or partially within 1,000 feet of the Great Lakes shoreline. However, not all wetlands identified in this study are directly influenced by Great Lakes water levels. Wilcox and Maynard (1996) and Fraser and Albert (1999) have re-analyzed Herdendorf as part of providing information for SOLEC (State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference) conferences. For the purposes of providing summary data for this report, these studies, and additional data provided by Minnesota and Wisconsin’s Coastal Zone Management Programs, were combined. There are at least 883 different coastal wetland ecosystems covering at least 393 square miles on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. It is important to note that these numbers are approximate and that they more than likely under report Great Lakes estuarine systems.

Key Habitats and Species

 

Great Lakes coastal wetlands include the following basic wetland types: aquatic beds dominated by floating-leaved and submergent macrophytes, emergent marshes dominated by emergent macrophytes, beach strands dominated by annual herbs, wet meadows and fens dominated by sedges, dune and swale complexes, bogs dominated by Sphagnum sp., and swamps forested by a variety of lowland conifers and deciduous trees. Based on a review of the existing information and restoration plans, the natural occurrence and need for restoration varies somewhat between each Great Lake (see Table 1).

 

Table 1. Estuarine Habitats in Need of Restoration in the Great Lakes and Connecting Channels

 

Habitat

Lake Superior

Lake Michigan

Lake Huron

Lake Erie

Lake Ontario

aquatic beds

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

emergent marshes

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

beach strands

¸

Ž

Ž

¸

¸

wet meadows and fens

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

dune and swale complexes

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

bogs

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

swamps

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

KEY:    Ž= High Need             Ž= Medium Need            ¸= Low Need

Marshes are the most common type of coastal wetland and are dominated by emergent macrophytes. This vegetation type can tolerate the short- and long-term fluctuations in water levels that occur in the Great Lakes. In fact, they actually require these fluctuations to maintain their species diversity (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996). Fen communities in the coastal Great Lakes are characterized by moderately decomposed peat, and have diverse plant communities dominated by sedges. Swamps are found along the upland margin of coastal wetlands, many of which are influenced by the Great Lakes only during periods of high water. Peatlands or bog communities usually occur towards the landward margin of coastal wetlands and in some cases form floating mats that adapt to lake-level changes (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996).

Coastal wetlands occur along the Great Lakes shorelines where erosive forces of ice and wave action are low, allowing the formation of wetland plant communities. They can occupy a wide variety of geomorphological settings that can be grouped into three broad categories based on their physical and hydrologic characteristics: open coast, drowned river mouth/flooded delta, and protected. A continuum exists between these categories, and given the dynamic nature of the shorelines, many coastal wetlands have systematically or episodically migrated along the continuum (Keough et. al, 1999).

The Great Lakes coastal wetlands are critical to the Great Lakes ecosystem as a whole. Coastal wetland systems are the most productive aquatic systems in the Great Lakes, and support diverse assemblages of invertebrates, fish, reptile, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Whillans (1987) determined that over 90 percent of the roughly 200 fish species in the Great Lakes are directly dependent on coastal wetlands for some part of their life cycle. In terms of waterfowl, 24 species of ducks, 4 species of geese, and 3 species of swans are known to use Great Lakes coastal wetlands. These areas are important as well for many birds other than waterfowl, including shorebirds, wading birds, and neotropical migrants (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996).

The Great Lakes coastal systems are important regional and global reservoirs for biological diversity. In a 1994 report on the conservation of biological diversity in the Great Lakes region, The Nature Conservancy identified 131 natural heritage elements (species and natural ecological community types) within the Great Lakes Basin that are critically imperiled, imperiled, or rare on a global basis. Of these, 91, or 70% of the occurrences, are associated with coastal systems (TNC, 1994).

In addition to providing critical fish and wildlife habitat, Great Lakes coastal wetlands perform a variety of ecological functions important to the healthy functioning of the Great Lakes ecosystem, including flood storage, sediment control, water quality improvement, shoreline erosion protection, food web production, and nutrient export.

                                        

Habitat-Dependent Activities

 

Estuarine systems served as the focal point for settlement of the Great Lakes region by Native Americans and Europeans. Historically, due to the ecological functions they provide, estuaries have been preferred as human habitat, and today they are linked inextricably to our economy and our quality of life. The commercial success and the economic importance to the country of cities like Duluth, Green Bay, and Detroit relate directly to the ecological functions that estuaries provide. Today, coastal wetland systems contribute to recreational, commercial, residential, agricultural, and industrial activities.

 

Coastal marshes are great places for non-consumptive recreational uses such as bird watching, nature study, photography, and general tourism. Recreational fishing is very important in coastal wetlands. The most sought-after species that use these systems include northern pike, muskellunge, large- and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, white and black crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, black and brown bullhead, carp, and bowfin (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996). In 1983, there was a total of 110,341,000 angler days logged on the Great Lakes (GLNPO, 1988). Waterfowl hunting provides the basis for the recreational hunting industry in coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes. Recreational boating is very popular in the Great Lakes, with Michigan sporting the largest number of registered boaters in the country. Recreational fishing and hunting contribute to local economies through the purchase of food, lodging, equipment, and guide services. Although no aggregate numbers of recreation and tourism revenue are available for the Great Lakes Basin as a whole, tourism in Michigan alone is a $10 billion per year industry.

 

Commercial fisheries associated with coastal wetlands have operated in the Great Lakes for over 125 years. In addition to fish such as northern pike, bass, and walleye taken for human consumption, various minnow species are also caught in coastal wetlands as part of an important bait fishery (Wilcox and Maynard, 1996). However, not all commercial use of coastal wetlands has been sustainable. Due to the steady supply of fresh water and access to the Great Lakes for inexpensive shipping of goods and services, many estuarine systems were developed as industrial centers. For example, the Rouge River delta (Detroit, MI) is the home of the Ford Motor Company’s Rouge Plant. At one time this marsh habitat was used by Native Americans to harvest wild rice, fish, and fur bearers. Today the entire lower stretch of the Rouge has been channelized and practically all wetlands have been filled (Stapp, pers. com). Likewise, the river mouths of the Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI), Calumet (Gary, IN), Cuyahoga (Cleveland, OH), and other rivers have been completely urbanized.

 

Coastal wetlands in Michigan and Ohio have also suffered severe impacts from drainage for the purpose of agriculture. Because the entire system is freshwater, there are no problems with saltwater intrusion in coastal agricultural fields. Drained wetlands are the most productive agricultural lands in the Great Lakes Basin. Hundreds of square miles of wetlands have been drained around Michigan’s Saginaw Bay and in the Maumee Watershed (formerly known as the Black Swamp). Despite the huge loss of wetlands to agriculture, wetlands drained for agricultural purposes that have not been filled or converted to other uses provide the greatest potential for wetland restoration.

 

Because of the recreational opportunities provided by Great Lakes estuaries, and their scenic beauty, these areas are sought after for resort-residential or second home development. Resorters, or “cottagers,” are seasonal residents who provide a critical boost to local economies but also put stress on coastal resources. Beyond the direct loss of wetland as a result of filling for development, improper stewardship by landowners can result in additional stress on the coastal wetland habitats. For example, many residents who develop in these areas attempt to control the dynamic nature of the system by removing vegetation to achieve an unfettered view during periods of low water levels. When the lake levels again rise and their shoreline erodes due to lack of wetland vegetation, they then pressure state and federal agencies to regulate water level fluctuations in the Lakes.

 

The various habitat-dependent activities affect both the structure and function of the estuarine resources on which they depend. Estuaries have experienced some of the most severe human-caused degradation of any habitat type on earth. Throughout the Great Lakes, estuarine systems have been altered by many of the factors affecting estuaries worldwide. As Great Lakes coastal areas continue to increase in population and popularity, the human impacts on estuarine resources can be expected to increase as well.

 

 


Habitat Status and Trends

 

As noted above, there are approximately 883 different coastal wetland ecosystems covering approximately 393 square miles on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. The extent of coastal wetlands (and our knowledge of them) varies in each of the Great Lakes. Specific status and trend data is noted in the discussions of each of the Lakes below. Based on a review of available literature and restoration plans, Table 2 offers a general summary of key threats to estuary habitats in the Great Lakes and connecting channels.

 

There are numerous natural and human-induced factors that have impacted, and continue to impact, Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Natural stressors include water level fluctuations (both long- and short-term), damage from ice and storms, sediment supply and transport, and biological stressors such as invasive native species or disease (Keough et al, 1999). It is important to note that Great Lakes coastal wetland systems benefit from natural stressors such as water level fluctuations. Sediment supply and transport can be both a positive and a negative for the health of a particular system. The formation of barrier beaches or sand spits can protect macrophytes from waves whereas their erosion can expose wetlands to wave action.

 

 

Table 2. Key Threats to Estuary Habitats in the Great Lakes and Connecting Channels.

 

General Threats

Specific Threats

Lake Superior

Lake Michigan

Lake Huron

Lake Erie

Lake Ontario

Direct Habitat Alteration

Coastal Development

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Dredging

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Filling

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Vegetation Removal

¸

 Ž

Ž

Ž

 Ž

 

Shoreline Armoring and Modification

 Ž

 Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Road Crossings

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

             

Hydrologic Modifications

Dams

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Artificial Changes in Water Level Regime

Ž

¸

¸

¸

Ž

 

Drainage

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Diking

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

             

Nonpoint Source Pollution

Urban Runoff

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Agricultural Runoff

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Sewage/Septic

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

             

Toxic Loading

Point Sources

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Atmospheric Deposition

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

             

Resource Extraction

Mining/Drilling

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

¸

 

Forestry

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Fisheries

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

             

Climate Change

 

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Nuisance, Exotic, and Invasive Species

Purple Loosestrife

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Phragmites australis

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Carp

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Zebra Mussel

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Cattails (invasive hybrid)

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Others (+130 exotics in Great Lakes)

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

             

Natural Stressors       

Water Level Changes

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Sediment Supply and Transport

¸

¸

Ž

Ž

Ž

 

Ice and Storms

Ž

¸

¸

Ž

Ž

 

Natural Biological Stressors

¸

¸

¸

¸

¸

KEY:         Ž= High Concern             Ž= Medium Concern            ¸=Low Concern

Human induced stressors include drainage, filling, dredging, shoreline armoring and modification, changes in water level regime, toxic and nutrient pollution, fragmentation, urban runoff, exotic species invasion, diking of wetlands, and global climate change (among others). This range of stressors has resulted in the loss of coastal wetland habitats and the degradation of the habitat that remains.

It is important to note that these specific threats seldom occur as discrete isolated events. There is interaction between human and natural stressors (e.g., efforts to armor the shoreline during period of high water or to plow shoreline vegetation during low water levels) and substantial interactions among human-induced stressors (e.g., coastal development is typically associated with some sort of hydrologic alteration and always results in nonpoint source pollution). The cumulative impacts of multiple stressors operating in the same time and place can have synergistic effects well beyond the sum of the individual stressors.

                                                                                        

Although no comprehensive studies have been conducted to evaluate the coastal wetland loss rates for the Great Lakes Basin as a whole, studies of specific coastal wetland systems suggest that the losses have been substantial. A study comparing current land use data in Michigan with historical information gleaned from General Land Office (GLO) Surveys conducted in Michigan prior to widespread European settlement found that coastal communities in southeast Michigan (along Saginaw Bay, the Detroit River, and the western shore of Lake Erie) have lost between 90% and 97% of their original emergent wetlands (many of which were associated with the Great Lakes coast) (Comer, 1996). Similar losses have been reported in southern Ontario. For example, 83% of the original 9,367 acres of western Lake Ontario coastal wetlands from Niagara River to Oshawa have been lost, with some sections suffering 100% loss due to filling.

The impacts of these losses have not been comprehensively assessed. As noted above, there are numerous species and ecological communities that are globally rare or imperiled in the coastal zone of the Great Lakes. Although the loss of coastal wetland habitats has slowed since the heyday of dredging, draining, and filling wetlands, losses in area and wetland function continue to occur.

Regional Planning Efforts

The unique qualities of the Great Lakes and their importance to the U.S. and Canada--both ecologically and economically--have made conservation and restoration of coastal habitats a key objective for bi-national, federal, state, and regional planning efforts. Regional efforts of note are highlighted below.

LaMPs and RAPs

One of the most significant environmental agreements in the history of the Great Lakes took place with the signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), between the United States and Canada. The agreement committed the U.S. and Canada (the Parties) to address water quality issues of the Great Lakes in a coordinated, joint fashion. The GLWQA was amended in 1987 and the Parties agreed to develop and implement, in consultation with State and Provincial Governments, Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) for lake basins, and Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) for Areas of Concern (AOCs). LaMPs have been developed for all of the Great Lakes except Lake Huron and include specific objectives for coastal habitat restoration. LaMPs for each lake are briefly described below. Forty-three AOCs were identified: 26 located entirely within the United States; 12 located wholly within Canada; and five shared by both countries. Some RAPs have been completed and are now in the implementation stages, others are still in the development process. Many RAPs contain coastal wetland restoration as a key component.

Lake Huron does not have a Lakewide Management Plan. The Great Lakes Office of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada as partners, has undertaken the development of the Lake Huron Initiative Action Plan. One purpose of the Plan is to determine priority issues and future efforts needed to ensure a sustainable Lake Huron watershed. Immediate future efforts focus on two key issues: critical pollutants/use impairments; and critical habitat and diversity of fish and wildlife populations.

TNC’s Ecoregional Planning

In 1996, The Nature Conservancy’s Great Lakes Program launched a collaborative initiative to develop an ecoregional plan that would identify high priority biodiversity conservation sites in the Great Lakes Region. In 1999, TNC completed a major portion of the plan; this first iteration focussed primarily on selecting sites important for target species and natural communities. Published in 2000, Toward a New Conservation Vision for the Great Lakes Region: A Second Iteration expands the plan to include sites that are important for aquatic systems, reptiles, and amphibians. Through the ecoregional planning process, The Nature Conservancy and partners have identified 271 sites that represent the tremendous biological diversity of the Great Lakes region. Of the 271 sites, 166 sites (over 60%) are irreplaceable–meaning that these places represent the only opportunity to protect certain species, natural communities, aquatic systems, or assemblages of these targets in the Great Lakes region. Over three-quarters of the sites will need attention within the next 10 years, and over two-thirds of the sites need more immediate action. Very few of the sites have completed site conservation plans. Completed plans that contain a restoration component have been included in the discussions for each subregion below.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes Coastal Program

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program, which focuses resources on sensitive coastal areas by applying funding and technical expertise to locally-led projects, has expanded to include the Great Lakes. In 2000, its first year, the Great Lakes Coastal Program projects focused on island habitat restoration, monitoring, invasive species control, erosion prevention along tributaries, and education. For 2001, 19 projects are planned in five of the Great Lakes states.

NAWMP

The Upper Mississippi River & Great Lakes Region Joint Venture Implementation Plan establishes the region’s goals for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). It identifies specific habitat objectives for focus areas with the overall objective of increasing populations of waterfowl and other wetland wildlife by protecting, restoring and enhancing wetland and associated upland habitats within the Joint Venture region.

SOLEC

The State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conferences (SOLEC) are hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada on behalf of the two Countries every two years in response to the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The conferences are intended to provide a forum for exchange of information on the ecological condition of the Great Lakes and surrounding lands. Held in even-numbered years, the conferences are the focal point of a process of gathering information from a wide variety of sources and engaging a variety of organizations in bringing it together. In the year following each conference the Governments have prepared a report on the state of the Lakes based in large part upon the conference process.

SOLEC conferences are intended to focus on the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem and the major factors impacting it. In addition to reporting on the health of the living system, the conferences report on the underlying conditions. This reflects the increased recognition that the condition of the ecosystem is being determined by three major factors: habitat loss, pollution, and exotic species. In 1996, SOLEC began reporting on ecological areas that hold unusual concentrations of biodiversity identified as "Biodiversity Investment Areas (BIA)". Contained in the paper on the land by the lakes, the concept was expanded to coastal wetlands and aquatic areas in 1998. As the SOLEC conferences continue, planning for the protection, enhancement and restoration of the BIAs will evolve.