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5 reasons to be focused on health of Great Lakes every week

INVADERS!: The sea lamprey is just one invasive species now harming the Great Lakes – and more are on the way if unified action isn’t taken across the Great Lakes basin, argues Brunch columnist Helen Taylor.

INVADERS!: The sea lamprey is just one invasive species now harming the Great Lakes – and more are on the way if unified action isn’t taken across the Great Lakes basin, argues Brunch columnist Helen Taylor.

Two significant Great Lakes events happened in Michigan in the last two weeks. We should all be spreading the word and encouraging more of the same.

A summit of the governors and premiers of the Great Lakes states and provinces convened on Mackinac Island May 31-June 2 — the first time these officials had convened in person since 2005. Gov. Rick Snyder was the driving force in bringing them all together, co-chairing the event with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in their roles as co-chairs of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

It was impressive to see — top leadership from all 10 states and provinces (POP QUIZ: Can you name all 10 in the Great Lakes system? See link to answers below.), as well as U.S. and Canadian ambassadors, the U.S. secretary of transportation, and CEOs and executives of industries and organizations who all have a vested interest in the future of the Great Lakes.

The summit, by all accounts, was a success. The gathering had a very strong undercurrent of recognition that the health of the economy and ecosystem are inextricably intertwined, and the speakers they brought in for the Summit reinforced that message.

But the most important part? The enormous team-building taking place among the leaders. The growth in rapport and the developing bonds was palpable, and was evidenced when they announced they will meet again. No amount of communications through staff, the media or correspondence can substitute for old-fashioned, in-person, roll-up-your-sleeves collaboration.

They will need this foundation as they take action on the resolution related to one of the biggest threats to the Great Lakes: aquatic invasive species.

It was no surprise that there were a few remarks at the Summit that reflect differing opinions on how to combat aquatic invasive species, and those remarks are getting a lot of attention, but that does not reflect the collaborative tenor and tone of the Summit overall, and was to be expected.

By the time you read this, the other significant event — Snyder’s Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week in Michigan (June 8-16) — will have just ended. The governor asked that people take the time next week to tell someone about the issues associated with aquatic invasive species and inform them how they can be a part of the solution.”

I think we need to extend this awareness effort through the summer and beyond, and not just with fellow Michiganders, but with all who care about the Great Lakes. To make it easier for you, here’s a list of five reasons to share with others why we should be concerned about aquatic invasive species:

–No threat has more fundamentally altered the health of the Great Lakes than aquatic invasive species (AIS). In other words, AIS are creating an unstable ecosystem.

–Asian carp are only a symptom of a much bigger problem. Scientists already know of eight more invasive and highly impactful species poised to invade the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River. And we’re giving as well as receiving, for 29 species that have already invaded the Great Lakes from other entry points are poised to enter the Mississippi system to wreak havoc.

–AIS are costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in management and treatment costs, borne by businesses, landowners, consumers and taxpayers.

–AIS contribute to the large algal blooms we are again seeing in the Great Lakes.

–AIS are a major factor in the decline of some fisheries, by altering and eliminating layers in the food chain;

If this makes you want to learn more, do a search for Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s AIS awareness week, or click here. To put it bluntly, the threat from AIS is real and ongoing; economic costs are high and growing; ecological and quality of life impacts are significant; and there are solutions. The resolution by the governors and premiers renewed their commitment to prevention; facilitating coordinated detection and response actions; and minimizing the harmful effects and spread of AIS already present. These goals require unified policies.

In these partisan times, to witness elected officials coming together in a meeting that resulted in collaboration and teamwork to protect something as important as the Great Lakes gives me great hope. Regardless of our politics, we need to commend our leaders when they step up and do the right thing. We must to let them know how important it is that they did this, and encourage more of the same in the future.

POP QUIZ: Were you able to remember all 10 Great Lakes system states and provinces? For the answers, click here.

Helen Taylor lives in Lansing, and is state director for The Nature Conservancy in Michigan and a Great Lakes Commissioner. Her favorite brunch dish is yogurt, fruit and nuts, although she’s been known to drive 75 miles for bacon. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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