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Great Lakes Day: Advocating in DC for Great Lakes Protection

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Our lakes may still be frozen but last week there was a wave of Great Lakes activity in Washington, D.C. More than 100 Great Lakes advocates from all over North America gathered together in one place for the Great Lakes Day meeting hosted by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC). I joined several of my fellow Great Lakes champions who headed east to represent Shedd Aquarium, an official Observer for GLC, at the annual event.

It's a pivotal time for the lakes. Resources are strained, but Great Lakes issues remain. Leaders including John Goss, Asian carp director for the Obama Administration, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy led important discussions about the future of our region. Representatives from Canada to Chicago came together to celebrate recent successes while also advocating for crucial funding support from federal, state and provincial governments. But, most importantly, we publicly strengthened our unified resolve to create solutions for the serious issues affecting the Great Lakes.

Of course, the hottest topic both in sessions and in hallway discussions remained how to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Progress has been made. Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS). However, the study is a starting point and there is more to be done to address the Asian carp issue, along with preventing the spread of other aquatic invasive species in and out of the Great Lakes basin.

In a show of solidarity, something not often seen in Washington D.C., the Great Lakes Commission passed four resolutions, with Asian carp at the top of the list:

  1. Asian carp solutions

    Resolution: Taking immediate action on a suite of near-term measures to reduce the risk of interbasin transfer of Asian carp and other invasive species at the Chicago Area Waterways System (CAWS).

    There's an urgent need to implement short-term risk reduction options to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, and Congress is looking to the Commission for next steps. The Commission recommended several near-term measures, including continuing the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework, such as electric barriers, and implementing additional control measures outlines in the GLMRIS report such as habitat alteration and controlled harvesting. Read more about the proposed near-term measures.

  2. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative support

    Resolution: Sustaining progress under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in fiscal years 2015-2019.

    In spring 2013, the U.S. EPA Great Lakes Advisory Board, of which I am a member, set out to identify priorities for GLRI and develop an Action Plan for fiscal year 2015-2019. Throughout the summer and through the end of 2013, we invited the public to provide input on the plan. With input from citizens, we identified three priorities: cleaning up Areas of Concern, reducing nutrients entering the Lakes and preventing the introduction of invasive species. Now, we are revising the draft based on feedback, and strengthening actions to account for challenges that could impact our plan such as climate change. Stay tuned to my blog for the updated plan.

  3. Invasive species trade

    Resolution: Strengthening federal protections against the importation and trade of invasive species.

    Throughout the last decade, more than 2,200 non-native wildlife species were imported into the U.S., including more than 300 species that posed a risk as potential invaders. In order to prevent the accidental importation of the next Asian carp, the Commission is advocating for strengthening federal laws and programs for screening for non-native species trade. This includes both live animals, and invasive plant species. Read the full resolution to learn more about invasive species trade prevention.

  4. Legislative priorities support

    Resolution: Endorsing the Commission's suite of federal legislative priorities for 2014.

    The Commission is calling upon Congress and the Administration to continue supporting critical funding for and collaboration with Great Lakes states as we implement the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative plan. Learn more about the Commission's 2014 legislative priorities.

While the Great Lakes Commission and other Great Lakes organizations continue to stand up for the Great Lakes, it's equally as important for the more than 40 million residents that rely on the Great Lakes to take action as well.

These resolutions were submitted to the U.S. Congress, so you can further our efforts by voicing your support to congressional state and local leaders. The Great Lakes region is a one-time gift from Mother Nature and together, each of us can do our part to protect and preserve these amazing, but limited, natural resources.

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