People from diverse backgrounds urge faster action to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes

from Wildlife Promise

A hearing Thursday in Traverse City, Mich., to discuss the federal government’s effort to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes showed that public concern over the invasive fish cuts across many socio-economic groups.

More than 150 people showed up at the hearing. In the crowd were politicians in suits, anglers in  blue jeans, old men, young women, Native Americans and other people of color, middle school students, urban dwellers and country folk.

Over and over, people who spoke at the meeting urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move faster and do more to keep Asian carp in the Mississippi River system from invading Lake Michigan via the Chicago Waterway System.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told federal officials it would be “nuts” for the Corps to take another four years, until 2015, to complete its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, known as GLMRIS.

“Asian carp are knock, knock, knocking on Lake Michigan’s door,” Schuette said. “Asian carp pose a clear and present danger to the state of Michigan … waiting until 2015 to complete this study is unacceptable.”

The newly elected Schuette has vowed to continue Michigan’s legal fight to force the closure of locks in the Chicago Shipping Canal, a measure that could keep Asian carp from swimming into Lake Michigan.

National Wildlife Federation has urged the Corps to complete the GLMRIS study by mid-2011. NWF and other groups believe the long-term solution to stopping the northern migration of Asian carp is to create a hydrologic barrier between Lake Michigan and the Chicago Waterway System.

Marc Smith, senior policy manager at NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center, said the Corps can move quickly when it wants to. He said Corps officials needed just three months to identify 18 possible sites where artificial links, such as canal and drainage ditches, could allow Asian carp and other invasive species to move between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins.

“That was great — that’s an example that the Corps can move fast,” Smith said.

He urged the Corps to get involved with a privately funded of study of how to create a hydrologic barrier between Lake Michigan and the Chicago Waterway System. That study, commissioned by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, will cost $2 million and be completed by January 2012.

The Chicago portion of the Corps study will cost $15 million and take at least four more years to complete. Implementing a solution could take several years after that.

“I represent the Grand Traverse Sportfishing Association and our group of more than 500 members has no faith in you,” Ryan Matuzak, a charter boat captain in Frankfort, told Corps officials. “We don’t believe that you care and we don’t believe you are doing enough.”

John Goss, who is President Obama’s Asian carp czar, said federal agencies are doing a good job of “managing” the spread of Asian carp in the Mississippi River basin.

“We are putting the best and brightest (people) in the Great Lakes region into this fight and I believe we are going to be successful,” Goss said.

Matuzak said the Corps should treat efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes as a type of war.

“This country has put people on the moon and we can’t stop an invasion in our own country when we know the pathway?” Matuzak said. “We’d like to see some aggressive action. I want to see some fight.”