Guest blog post from Amy Beyer, Director of the Conservation Resource Alliance, who will be presenting at the upcoming Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Restoration Conference.
We’re really excited to have a workshop on aquatic connectivity at the Cleveland conference in September! Freeing rivers and habitats of man-made barriers is top on our list of restoration needs. There is so much opportunity now with GLRI. We have all the homework done and the basic experience and relationships all built from our decades of river restoration in northern Michigan. With GLRI funding, we now have enough gas in the tank to make a real dent in the problem. We’re stretching bigger, expanding the impact by involving other partners, more rivers, more states. We and our partners across the Great Lakes have our sights set on freeing ALL of the Great Lakes streams, restoring connectivity for fish passage, aquatic organism movement, and reconnecting habitats for wildlife. Many of these streams have been fragmented by dams, road crossings and other man-made barriers for 100 years or more.
Just today, we were on site at the Brown Bridge Dam removal, just underway on the Boardman River near Traverse City, Mi. This is the first of 3 dams to be removed on the Boardman, in the largest dam removal project in Michigan’s history. Our own Senator Carl Levin, one of the original supporters of GLRI, and Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe were on hand to celebrate the launch of this project, because it is such a great moment in Michigan history. When we hear these guys getting passionate about re-connecting the Boardman River and Lake Michigan, we know we’re making progress. Hank Bailey, an elder who works with the Natural Resource and Environment Department of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, said that “the blood of one of Mother Earth’s veins is now flowing again.” I’ve always thought, personally, that Hank perhaps understands and respects these rivers as much as any human alive today. This connectivity work is really basic common sense, yet it’s the most important thing we can do – at least in the north – to bring the health back to the Great Lakes.
More than 80% of the $5 million invested in the Brown Bridge dam removal so far has come through GLRI, and Fish & Wildlife Service has administered more than one third of that. But it’s taken the whole community, a whole group of Michigan, federal and tribal agencies, private foundations, and every kind of money we could raise to get this project done. We are very pleased that local Michigan firms are supplying the expertise, equipment, and manpower for the Boardman dam removal and other GLRI projects. The job retention/creation is felt keenly in our mostly rural region, which is otherwise stressed to the limits economically. We know how to get real connectivity work done up here, and we look forward next month in Cleveland, to discussing what we’ve learned, hearing what others are doing to reconnect waterways and habitats, and brainstorming on what is still in front of us to be solved.