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First Completed Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Project Means New Habitat for Wildlife, Fresh Hope for People
Last month, on a cold and windy fall afternoon in Michigan, people from across the Great Lakes region gathered for an exciting and unprecedented event: the dedication of the very first completed Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project. The Shiawassee Flats Wetland Restoration Project, in Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge near Saginaw Bay, restored a 141-acre agricultural field to its historical wetland habitat. The new wetland is adjacent to the Flint River and will significantly add to the available habitat for migratory birds while improving water quality and decreasing the risk of flooding downstream.
I wasn’t able to attend the project’s groundbreaking ceremony a year and a half before, so I couldn’t feel the dramatic change from farm field to wetland, but my visit was still a wonderful way to spend a Friday afternoon. The new wetland was full of noisy birds, and flocks of ducks and geese frequently flew overhead. We learned that the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge is considered a globally Important Bird Area – and that at times, over 60,000 ducks and geese are on-site. The project was carried out through an outstanding partnership among Ducks Unlimited, the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. EPA, and the Upper Mississippi River & Great Lakes Region Joint Venture.
This new wetland was the very first GLRI project to be completed – and as the EPA’s Cameron Davis, explained it, it’s one small step in the long journey towards restoring the Great Lakes. It’s also a happy reminder that there are successes happening across the region that will improve conditions for people and wildlife. To me, these successes, no matter how big, are key – they remind me that despite the long legacy of environmental degradation we feel across the Great Lakes Region, we have the ability to reverse the damage – and that our work to restore the Great Lakes is as important as ever.
The National Wildlife Federation works hard to support federal funding for restoring the Great Lakes – and subsequently, projects like this. As a co-founder and co-chair of the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition, we work hard alongside the rest of the Great Lakes community to secure robust federal funding and support for Great Lakes restoration and to provide a strong, unified voice for restoration across the region. NWF also provides resources to groups who are undertaking on-the-ground restoration projects, like our Technical Guidance for Climate-Smart Restoration, a report on implementing the Great Lakes Compact, and a new report on the effects of invasive species and nutrient loading in the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – or GLRI – is the program to implement the comprehensive restoration plan for the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy. The GLRI was launched in 2010, and to date has received over $700 million in federal funding. Under the GLRI, groups across the Great Lakes Basin can apply for funding for projects that benefit the region – including combating invasive species, cleaning up toxic pollution, restoring nearshore health, and restoring valuable wildlife habitat. The GLRI represents unprecedented support in Great Lakes restoration from leaders in Washington on both sides of the aisle – so far, over 500 projects have been granted funding under the program. Our work is not done, however – the GLRI, along with many other important environmental programs, faces steep cuts as congress grapples with how to get the nation’s spending under control. In 2012, NWF will work with its partners in the region to make sure the GLRI continues to receive the funding it needs to do the important work of restoring the Great Lakes.