What’s on the Horizon for the Great Lakes in 2018?

The Great Lakes region: vast, iconic, and awe-inspiring. From the largest inland freshwater seas in the world filled with fish, lined with isolated islands and rock cliffs where eagles perch to hunt, monumental sand dunes towering over the endangered piping plover, wetland complexes providing waypoints for millions of birds and waterfowl, sandy beaches and the nation’s most productive cities for people, to inland forests of birch, white pine and maple holding wildlife like moose, bears and loons, to sprawling farmland and oak savannas dotted with white-tailed deer and monarch butterflies, this region encompasses the northern heart of America.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, works to implement NWF’s mission in this amazing region by uniting Americans to help wildlife thrive in a changing world through a culture of collaboration and inclusion. It houses NWF staff working on Great Lakes regional issues and programs, staff working on national issues and programs, and staff working on both. I asked some of my fellow staff in the Great Lakes Regional Center about what they saw as some of the challenges, priorities, opportunities and goals that they see coming in 2018.

Marc Smith, Conservation Director, Great Lakes Regional Center:

I’m looking to see the Great Lakes diversion review process improved. This year, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers are soliciting input from the public on how to improve and update the regional decision-making procedures for future proposals to divert Great Lakes water under the Great Lakes Compact. I’d also like to see the plan to help keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes advance, a prohibition on commercial net pen aquaculture in the open public waters of the Great Lakes, a renewed focus on scientific wildlife management driving natural resource decisions, and a strong Farm Bill passing Congress that improves wildlife habitat and protects drinking water.

Mike Shriberg, Executive Director, Great Lakes Regional Center:

The state of Michigan needs to be in the process of actually implementing a plan to decommission Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac by the end of 2018.

Manja Holland, Education Manager, Great Lakes Regional Center:

I’m excited to launch the Sacred Grounds program in Toledo, Ohio. We’ll also be working on increasing pollinator habitat in Southeast Michigan and collaborating with our Michigan affiliate – Michigan United Conservation Clubs – to increase pollinator habitat throughout the state as part of their wildlife habitat co-op partnership.

Todd Ambs, Campaign Director, Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has provided a healthy down payment on important restoration work around the region. In the last seven years, over 3,500 projects have been undertaken to clean up toxic hot spots, reduce polluted runoff, improve habitat and protect the lakes – a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people. In 2018, we expect that our bipartisan champions in Congress will once again lead the effort to secure continued strong federal funding for this initiative that has been a tremendous environmental and economic benefit to the region.

monarch butterflies

In recent years, monarch butterflies have decreased by 90% in North America since peak populations in the mid-1990s. Photo by Margaret Burrell.

Jordan Lubetkin, Communications Director, Great Lakes Regional Center:

The U.S. Congress needs to fix the ethanol mandate to protect our health, drinking water, and wildlife habitat. More than 40 percent of U.S. corn is grown for ethanol which ends up in our gas tanks. Following enactment of the current ethanol mandate in 2007, more than 7.3 million acres of habitat were plowed under—habitat that’s home to monarch butterflies, ducks, and other species. And at a time when the Great Lakes are experiencing farm runoff-fueled toxic algal outbreaks like the one in 2014 which poisoned drinking water for more than 400,000 people, we need to do everything we can to protect habitat and protect our water. We have common-sense reforms for the Renewable Fuel Standard to make it work for farmers and our public health. It’s time we use them.

Jessica Espenshade, Agriculture Program Coordinator:

I’d like to see the 2018 Cover Crop Champion class be the largest in the history of the program. 49 farmers and agricultural professionals involved in the program will increase awareness of sustainable agricultural practices such as cover crops, no-till and diverse crop rotation across 6 different states.

Elizabeth Lillard, Agriculture Program Specialist

I want to see Women in Conservation Leadership Summit continue to expand as a well-known professional development opportunity for women in this field with opportunities extending beyond just the annual Summit.

Simone Lightfoot, National Director of Urban Initiatives

I want to continue to ensure that Flint’s needs and Detroit’s water shutoffs, exploding lead levels in children and hepatitis outbreak remain elevated and sustained points that our program highlights.

Celia Haven, Field Manager, Great Lakes Climate Change Adaptation and Restoration

My hope for 2018 is that the 14th Annual Great Lakes Restoration Conference in Detroit is our biggest and most inclusive conference yet and continues to push Great Lakes advocacy to the next level.

Drew YoungeDyke, Communications Coordinator, Great Lakes Regional Center

As for me, I want to make sure sportsmen and women stay engaged on the importance of keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. There will be a lot of behind-the-scenes planning and scoping on the Army Corps of Engineers’ Asian carp plan out of the public eye, but the urgency of solving the problem grows by the day. I’m also really excited to communicate all the different species in the region that will benefit from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. It has bipartisan support, doesn’t raise taxes, and is desperately needed to help states solve the wildlife crisis. Congress needs to move on it this year.

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