TRAVERSE CITY, MI (April 27) – As government officials from throughout the nation gather this week to participate in the most comprehensive Great Lakes conservation planning effort in the history of the region, over 50 national, state and local conservation organizations today announced the formation of a Great Lakes restoration coalition aimed at securing a sustainable restoration plan and obtaining the billions of dollars needed to implement it. “People and organizations throughout the nation recognize the unprecedented opportunity we have to protect and restore the Great Lakes,” said coalition co-chair and National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) President Tom Kiernan. “This is the first time in this region’s history that national, regional, state and local organizations have joined together to fight for comprehensive Great Lakes restoration and the billions of dollars such an effort will require. By restoring the Great Lakes, we will be protecting our national heritage, as well as the memories of millions of families.”
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and NPCA are heading the “Healing Our WatersSM – Great Lakes” coalition, which seeks to protect and restore the Great Lakes by addressing such issues as reclaiming sensitive coastal wetlands and other critical habitat, stopping the introduction of invasive species, eliminating toxic pollution that contaminates fish, reducing polluted runoff, ending beach closings, and cleaning up contaminated sediments. “For too long, governments have taken a Band-Aid® approach when it comes to the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, co-chair of the coalition and director of NWF’s Great Lakes Natural Resource Center. “That must stop. We need permanent and comprehensive solutions that will save the Great Lakes’ ecosystem and bolster our region’s job base and economy. Our citizens rely on the lakes for drinking water, a special place to spend their vacation, and their regional identity.”
The announcement comes a day before federal, state, local, and tribal leaders are joined by civic, business and conservation leaders in Traverse City, Michigan, to craft a comprehensive Great Lakes restoration plan. The meeting is part of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-led process charged by President Bush with developing a plan to restore the Great Lakes. “The federal process has made some progress, but the jury’s still out on whether it will succeed in crafting an effective restoration plan for the Great Lakes,” said Buchsbaum. “Unless it combines a comprehensive vision with on-the-ground, fundable projects, then it may turn out to be yet another plan that ends up sitting on a shelf gathering dust. Our coalition is working hard to make sure that this time, there’s a plan that results in the action and funding the Great Lakes and our region need.”
The drive for the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes coalition began in May 2004, at the Great Lakes Healing Our Waters conference, sponsored by Peter M. Wege and the Wege Foundation at Steelcase University in Grand Rapids, Michgan. Following that meeting, Wege and his foundation pledged $5 million over five years to the National Wildlife Federation and National Parks Conservation Association to lead a broad coalition to make Great Lakes restoration a reality.
“No single foundation, no single organization, no single person, no single nation will restore the Great Lakes by working alone,” said Peter Wege. “It will take close partnerships among all who care for our magnificent Great Lakes to get the job done.”
The coalition includes 55 national, regional, state and local organizations that seek to inspire federal and state initiatives to protect and improve the health of the Great Lakes. The coalition, led by NWF and NPCA, will be guided by a steering committee comprised of regional and national organizations and two state organizations. Steering committee members include representatives from American Rivers, Ducks Unlimited, Great Lakes United, Lake Michigan Federation (now knows as the Alliance for the Great Lakes), The Nature Conservancy, Ohio Environmental Council, Sierra Club, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.
Coalition and steering committee members are deeply involved in the Great Lakes restoration planning meetings convened by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Traverse City this week. These organizations are available to provide updates on the different issue areas being addressed by the planning process. Contact information for each organization is available from NWF.
To date, efforts to restore the Great Lakes have lacked coordination and funding, according to a 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office. Over the years many piecemeal restoration plans have been drafted, yet few have been implemented.
The Great Lakes comprise almost 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water and supply drinking water to more than 40 million U.S. and Canadian residents. They are home to eight national parks. The Great Lakes also support a diversity of wildlife, including a world-class fishery, maritime trade, industry, and agriculture.
“Our job,” said Kiernan. “is to ensure that the momentum now being generated for Great Lakes restoration leads to on-the-ground results that preserve the national parks and resources of the region for the benefit of wildlife, tourists, local residents, and future generations.”
Protecting wildlife through education and action since 1936, the National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization creating solutions that balance the needs of people and wildlife now and for future generations.
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.