2012 Budget a Victory for Great Lakes, Wildlife

Restoration of Humbug Marsh along the Detroit River is contributing to the recovery of fish species such as lake whitefish and lake sturgeon and the restoration of the Great Lakes. Photo / James Marvin Phelps
One of the greatest wildlife success stories in the Great Lakes involves the recovery of whitefish in the Detroit River. A food staple for centuries for Native American and European settlers, whitefish numbers plummeted in the middle of the last century due to overfishing, habitat destruction and competition from non-native species such as the sea lamprey.

Whitefish faced many serious threats in the Detroit River. Hardening of the river’s shoreline, dredging of rocky spawning grounds on the river bottom, and industrialization along the river leading to pollution and sewage contamination drove the fish out of the river. The year 1916 marked the last time researchers documented whitefish spawning in the river.

But that changed. Passage of the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972 and investment to fix the nation’s sewers help cut discharges of pollution and waste into the Detroit River. The formation of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge in 2001—the first International Wildlife Refuge in North America—led to an unprecedented effort by citizens, businesses and federal agencies to restore this urban refuge.

The removal of steel and concrete along the river’s shores—combined with efforts to restore area habitat and wetlands—helped heal the river so that now mayflies, yellow perch, lake sturgeon and bald eagles have returned after a decades-long absence. And, in 2006, scientists once again observed whitefish spawning in the river.

Restoration of the Detroit River is part of a larger effort to restore the health of the Great Lakes. Thanks to the 2012 budget, restoration efforts will keep moving forward to help the recovery of whitefish and other fish and wildlife which depend on the Great Lakes.

Fish, Wildlife, Great Lakes Winners in 2012 Budget

The 2012 federal budget provides strong support for Great Lakes programs. The budget provides $300 million to restore fish and wildlife habitat, clean up toxic pollution that poses a health risk to people and wildlife, and stop pesticide, fertilizer, oil, grease and other polluted run-off from farms and cities. It also supports efforts to confront invasive species like the Asian carp that threaten native fish and wildlife.

Photo / Colleen Brown
The budget also contains more than $500 million to the eight Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to confront the chronic problem of sewage overflows that close beaches, destroy habitat and contribute to harmful algae blooms.

The 2012 budget represents a significant victory for fish, wildlife and the Great Lakes,” said the National Wildlife Federation’s Jeff Skelding, who serves as campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “This investment is critical for Great Lakes fish and wildlife.”

Delivering Results for Wildlife

In communities around the region, Great Lakes restoration activities are producing results and making a difference for wildlife.

More, however, needs to be done.

Vision for a Revitalized Great Lakes

The decades-long assault on the Great Lakes will not be cured over night. Habitat destruction, sewage contamination, invasive species and toxic pollution like PCBs have taken a heavy toll on the Lakes and its wildlife, leading to the extinction of species like the blue pike and drastic decline of other species such as lake trout.

That’s why more than 1,500 citizens came together in 2005 to craft a plan to restore the Great Lakes and the fish species that relied on them, such as whitefish, lake herring, lake trout, yellow perch, walleye, coaster brook trout, lake sturgeon, American eel, and Atlantic salmon.

That plan—supported by the National Wildlife Federation—offers manageable solutions to bring back the Lakes and its wildlife. It’s great that the 2012 federal budget supports actions to restore the Great Lakes. It will be equally important for the U.S. Congress and President Obama to maintain support for these programs in the 2013 budget and beyond. Cutting funding will only make problems worse and more costly to solve.

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Published: December 23, 2011