A healthy Great Lakes ecosystem is critical to protecting the birds that we love – and it’s also great for people. That’s why we’re working to advance and expand policies like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) that ensure clean water and healthy habitats across the Great Lakes region.
To achieve these ambitious goals, we rely on robust engagement from across our powerful network of chapters and members throughout the region. And they haven’t let us down. Through their efforts participating in advocacy events, meetings with legislators, authoring letters to the editor, and much more our Great Lakes advocates and members have shared their time, passion and stories to protect and strengthen our region.
Each year in March, Great Lakes advocates join us to share their stories with members of Congress during Great Lakes Days, a week of Great Lakes advocacy presented by Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. Advocates collectively tell the story of restoration success and the importance of conservation action to restore and protect the Great Lakes.
This year, Great Lakes Days have gone virtual. In recognition of Great Lakes Days 2021, we’re shining a spotlight on three advocates whose actions have contributed to meaningful policy changes for Great Lakes birds. Each has worked in tandem with Audubon Great Lakes, a regional office of National Audubon Society, to increase funding and strengthen bird protections for the GLRI, the premier federal Great Lakes restoration program that addresses the threats facing the Great Lakes.
Walter Marcisz has been monitoring breeding marsh birds - like the Least Bittern and Virginia Rail - across the Chicago area for close to 50 years. He first noticed the decline of marsh birds almost a decade ago but wasn’t sure how to reach out to decision-makers who could do something about it.
In 2018, Audubon Great Lakes advocated for breeding marsh birds to be prioritized in the GLRI Action Plan. Walter joined our advocacy effort and submitted a public comment. With years of experience monitoring declining marsh bird populations, Walter’s expertise gave him the insights to make a compelling and informed argument for birds. His local knowledge and marsh bird survey data have been invaluable to conservation efforts like our Marsh Bird Data Hub, a tool that helps inform restoration efforts to better protect birds and people.
Consistent voices of Audubon members and advocates like Walter let decision-makers know that birds must be a priority. As a result, for the very first time, the plan now specifically seeks to benefit breeding marsh birds, such as rails, grebes, bitterns, Black and Forster’s Terns, and other species that rely on high-quality coastal wetlands.
Since 2010 the GLRI has funded more than 5,000 projects to drive positive impacts for our region’s communities, wildlife, and economy - projects like the conservation research Erin Giese conducts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
As President of Northeastern Wisconsin Audubon Society and a member of National Audubon’s Board of Directors, Erin believes that Audubon’s chapters and members have an important role in advocating for policies that improve natural habitat for birds and wildlife.
Erin joined Audubon Great Lakes to advocate for increased funding of the GLRI to help enhance her corner of the Great Lakes. The Green Bay region is home to nearly half of Lake Michigan’s high-priority coastal wetlands. Habitat fragmentation, forest clearing, and wetland destruction in Wisconsin make these marshes critically important to the state’s birds. Erin organized a bird walk with her member of Congress, where she shared the importance of the GLRI to the region’s birds and the impact that climate change is having. After this one-on-one meeting, this legislator not only continued to be a champion for the GLRI but has since reached out to Erin to stay engaged with additional bird conservation work that she is leading for Audubon in her community.
Since 2019, Audubon Great Lakes has partnered with Melanie and Ottawa County Parks in Ottawa County, Michigan to restore marsh bird habitat and monitor how birds are responding to these efforts. The coastal region of Eastern Lake Michigan hosts many bird species of high conservation concern and has a unique composition of high-priority coastal wetlands. The shorelines and riparian corridors attract diverse and abundant migratory shorebirds and waterfowl as well as breeding marsh birds. The nearshore waters of Lake Michigan host globally significant concentrations of Long-tailed Ducks and other migratory waterbirds during spring migration. Melanie’s expertise on wetland birds and their habitats is helping to inform Audubon Great Lakes’ future restoration and public access projects in this critical region.
Last year, Melanie joined Audubon Great Lakes for Great Lakes Days to meet with her members of Congress in Washington DC. She showed how GLRI funding would further support local restoration efforts for the benefit of marsh birds and her local community and advocated for their support of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act, which reauthorizes Congress to increase the GLRI program’s funding incrementally from $300 million to $475 million by 2026.
Personal stories from advocates like Melanie helped lead to the signing of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act into law this year - a big win for Great Lakes birds and people.
Join us in taking action for conservation! Sign up to be a Great Lakes climate advocate or reach out to Izabela Grobelna, chapter network associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.