Protecting Great Lakes important to region, nation

Michiganders are lucky and they know it. No matter where you reside in the Great Lakes state, you can’t be too far from one of the iconic bodies of water. The lakes are essential to our way of life, culture and economy. That’s why we’re alarmed at the potential loss of funds to help the Great Lakes.

Commercial and sport fisheries are vital industries in the Great Lakes region, according to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. It estimates that commercially about 65 million pounds of fish per year are harvested from the lakes and that it contributes more than $1 billion to the Great Lakes economy.

Sport fishing, on the other hand, is a big tourist draw to the region, and it brings in about $4 billion. These figures alone are sizable, but don’t take into account recreation and tourism or shipping — both sizable industries in the region.

The proposed Environmental Protection Agency budget for fiscal year 2018, which was released Tuesday, calls for the elimination of a series of initiatives targeting regional waters plagued with pollution that threatens human health, kills fish and harms tourism, Associated Press environmental writer John Flesher wrote in a story earlier this week. The idea behind the cuts, it appears, is that state and local governments should do the work and foot the costs. A White House budget summary indicates that the programs fund “primarily local efforts” but have received “significant federal funding, coordination and oversight to date.”

Supporters of the programs argue that taking care of the lakes is a team effort that involves multiple levels of government, as well as nonprofits, universities and others. They also point out that not only does Washington lend financial support, but it is often needed to act as a leader among multiple states that might not always see eye-to-eye on how best to approach lake efforts.

We think a coalition approach, with the federal government running point, makes the most sense. After all, we all benefit from the industry the Great Lakes provide. The issue is a no-brainer for nearly everyone, as Republicans and Democrats agree. In fact, nearly the entire Michigan delegation is united on this issue, including U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, and U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, is the sole Michigan delegate that has not publicly supported maintaining a fully-funded Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, according to a Tuesday article.

So we’re befuddled by the Trump Administration’s opposition to protect this region’s greatest asset.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded more than 2,080 projects. Under Trump’s budget proposal, funding for GLRI would be completely eliminated.

While projects have taken place all over the Great Lakes region — including a few close to home:

• The Bete Grise Preserve: Keweenaw County — The Bete Grise Preserve along Lake Superior added 1,475 acres of ecologically significant wetlands to the preserve thanks to GLRI funds.

• Partridge Creek Diversion: Ishpeming — Restoring the natural channel of the creek stopped the flow of mercury from underground mines into nearby Deer Lake and Lake Superior.

• Crisp Point Protection Project: Newberry — A federally funded land acquisition will preserve 3,810 acres of forest and more than 2 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.

The GLRI is an example of a successful partnership. We’d hate to see it end.

If the lakes matter to you — if you’d like to continue our legacy as “The Great Lakes State,” then let your lawmakers know you’re keeping an eye on what they’re doing.

It’s too important not to, and we’d like to think our luck hasn’t run out yet.

Mining Journal (Marquette)