Last Week, Audubon Great Lakes staff headed to Washington, D.C. to advocate for policies that support clean water and healthy habitats across the Great Lakes region. Great Lakes Day, organized by the Healing Our Waters Coalition, brings together a binational coalition of regional agencies, legislators, local communities, tribes and business, maritime and environmental groups to advocate for the continued protection of the Great Lakes
Audubon met with legislators across our five states to share the importance of conservation funding like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, climate benefits within this year’s Farm Bill, and protections for clean water.
Agricultural practices have a huge impact on birds, wildlife, habitat and the environment. This year’s Farm Bill is a critical opportunity for Congress to advance legislation that will protect the Great Lakes while supporting the implementation of sustainable farming practices and alternative cropping systems to protect our shared environment from the worst impacts of climate change. Popular Farm Bill programs have more people who want to participate in them than funding. That’s why we need to fully fund farm conservation programs in the Farm Bill.
Federal Great Lakes restoration investments are producing both ecological and economic results. For more than 40 years, marsh bird populations were declining in the Calumet region due to a massive loss of wetlands. Audubon Great Lakes’ restoration work with partners in the Calumet region of Southeast Illinois and Northwest Indiana is beginning to pay off for birds and local communities. To date, Audubon Great Lakes has worked with partners to restore over 2,000 acres of critical coastal wetlands in the Calumet region and has helped guide partners and landowners to restore an additional 4,200 wetland acres. For the first time in decades, marsh bird populations are stabilizing and several species are showing up to newly restored wetlands in higher numbers during the breeding season. Restored wetlands are also improving water quality and helping communities adapt to intensified precipitation events and rapid fluctuations of Great Lakes’ water levels.
Projects like ours are making a tremendous impact across our region, but serious threats remain. Congress must continue supporting our communities by fully funding key restoration programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has funded thousands of projects that have improved water quality and driven positive impacts for the region’s wildlife, communities and economies. During Great Lakes Day, we called on Senators and Members of Congress to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $425 million.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative supports much of Audubon Great Lake’s conservation efforts, including our work to protect Michigan’s Black Tern, which faces an uncertain future in our region. This spring, Black Terns will start their long migration from Mexico, Central America and South America to Michigan’s marshes where they will spend the breeding season. Black Terns build their unique floating nests out of plant material, and prefer to nest in hemi-marsh wetlands – roughly equal mix of open water and emergent aquatic vegetation. Thanks to support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Audubon is working to create ideal nesting conditions to give Michigan’s Black Tern a fighting chance.
Restoration investments are crucial to improving water quality and habitat to protect our region’s wildlife, local communities and economies. More than 1.5 million jobs depend on the health of the Great Lakes. According to one study from the University of Michigan, every GLRI dollar spent from 2010 to 2016 will produce $3.35 in additional economic activity in the Great Lakes through 2036. Protection of the Great Lakes will continue to attract 15 million anglers who visit annually, supporting almost 60,000 jobs in a $7B recreational fishing industry, and over 100,000 jobs in the boating industry.
A healthy Great Lakes ecosystem is critical to protecting the birds that we love – and it’s also great for people. We’ll continue our work to advocate for the protection of the Great Lakes region.