Back in 1938, Orson Welles' now infamous radio dramatization of War of the Worlds panicked many Americans into believing that Martian invaders had landed in rural New Jersey intent on destroying Earth.
It appears that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and his allies in the Great Lakes states took a page out of Welles' playbook in their very own war. Not a war against Martian invaders but against environmentally unfriendly Asian carp that have worked their way up the Mississippi River towards the Great Lakes.
Admittedly, when it comes to spreading panic, the Great Lakes lobby doesn't have the creative material Orson Welles had to work with. Their rallying cries sound more like science fiction film titles from the 1950s than long-term, feasible approaches to Asian carp. Hopefully, their propaganda efforts are not enough to panic reasonable people into ignoring scientific evidence and granting the Great Lakes proponents their ultimate wish - an economically devastating closure of the locks along the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS).
When stamping their feet didn't work, the close-the-locks crowd went to court. After months of expert testimony, a federal court rejected the Attorneys General's suit demanding that the Army Corps of Engineers close the Chicago locks. Basing their entire case on the questionable application of the relatively new eDNA testing method, the judge ruled the states did not prove an imminent threat that justified such drastic action. As Judge Robert Dow noted in his decision, the laundry list of eDNA's shortcomings is well cataloged. Even the developer of the testing method originally stated carp are not a nuisance to the lakes. Substantial evidence was also presented that the Chicago waterway system is not the only route by which Asian carp could reach the Great Lakes from the tributaries of the Mississippi Basin.
The court decision offered a graceful moment for lock closure and separation proponents to tone down their rhetoric and work with other states and the federal government on a comprehensive plan to deal with Asian carp; in other words, to quit "carping" and start cooperating. But no such luck.
Instead, they started hurling criticism at the Obama administration for lack of action on the issue. Most of those accusations target John Goss, director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the president's point man on Asian Carp. According the misinformation machine, Goss had the temerity to fund an in-depth study of the carp problem, that some are complaining will take too long to complete. But would we want anything less? Would we prefer hasty action without knowing the repercussions beforehand?
Meanwhile, a number of actions ignored by the critics are underway. A fence has been constructed in Indiana to block one of the many possible transfer routes outside of Illinois, and two electric barriers currently prevent the further advancement of carp in the CAWS. A third barrier is in final testing and will be in place in the coming days - one year ahead of schedule, no less. These improvements are the result of the numerous near-term, smaller reports and evaluations the government has already conducted. You probably haven't heard much about those however, because they confirm that closing the locks will do nothing to reduce the risk of Asian carp reaching the lakes.
In view of both short and long-term anti-carp efforts the government has completed, the criticism of Goss and the administration sounds crabby and petulant. Critics want their way or no way at all, even though their way means closing the CAWS locks and blocking the 140,000 tons of shipping that goes between the lower Midwest and Great Lakes via CAWS in an average week. Losing that efficient route for shipping would raise the cost of doing business and lead to job cuts at companies throughout the region. Furthermore, a rushed decision to pursue permanent separation would not only take years but also require astronomical funding that the states, region and federal government simply can't afford.
There's no doubt that Asian carp are a problem that must be addressed. This is, however, a manageable problem that we must address with a long-term, comprehensive solution. Finding that solution requires adult-style cooperation, but in some Great Lakes states today, that kind of cooperation is as rare as Martians in New Jersey.