U.S. Senate endorses new Great Lakes pact

Staff Reports

Washington, D.C. — Unlike college football, there’s no such
thing as a rivalry between Ohio and Michigan when it comes to the
Great Lakes.

Further, the two states’ U.S. senators say regional
collaboration is the key to the longterm health of the lakes.

The U.S. Senate on July 11 approved the Great Lakes Fish and
Wildlife Restoration Act (S. 2430), which would support fish and
wildlife in the Great Lakes.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) introduced
the bipartisan bill, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Debbie
Stabenow (D-Mich.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

“The Great Lakes are not only vital to Michigan, but to the
nation, and we must recognize that we are only their temporary
stewards,” said Levin. “This bill provides funding to help protect
and restore the fish and wildlife so crucial to the Great Lakes
ecosystem.”

DeWine and Levin are co-chairmen of the Senate’s Great Lakes
Task Force.

“The Great Lakes are threatened by pollution, habitat loss, and
the continued introduction of invasive species and this bill would
provide resources to states and tribes and encourage partnerships
between governmental and non-governmental groups so that everyone
is working together to preserve and protect this unique natural
resource for future generations,” DeWine said in a news release. “I
am pleased that my Senate colleagues realized that by reauthorizing
the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act we are providing
even more resources and new tools to move restoration in the right
direction.”

The Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act was enacted in
1990 and in 1998, and S. 2430 would reauthorize the program. The
bill reauthorizes a grant program to restore fish and wildlife in
the lakes, authorizes up to $6 million for newly created fish and
wildlife regional projects, requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to provide information online for fish and wildlife
managers, calls for reports on fish and wildlife in the lakes, and
maintains the USFWS Fisheries Resources Offices and the Great Lakes
Coordination Office. The authorization of appropriations for this
bill is increased from $8 million to $20 million per year.

The bill will have to be considered and voted upon by the House
of Representatives before it can be enacted.

In any event, the Senate passage of the bill is a positive step,
said Gary Isbell, fisheries administrator for the DNR Division of
Wildlife.

“This is one of the first mechanisms that’s been reauthorized
and enhanced to allow some of those (Great Lakes) restoration
objectives to be attacked,” said Isbell.

“ … There’s a whole new mechanism for dividing up what this
money gets used for in the reauthorization,” Isbell said. “There
was a process for dividing it out before, but there wasn’t much
money there, something like $300,000 or $400,000. You’re not going
to do many restoration projects without more money than that.”

Some of the specific provisions of the bill include the
following:

  • Fish and wildlife grants: The bill authorizes the USFWS to
    award grants, based on the recommendations of the Great Lakes
    states and tribes, to restore fish and wildlife in the Great Lakes.
    Grants must be consistent with water quality, fisheries, and
    wildlife agreements as well as the recommendations of the Great
    Lakes Regional Collaboration. The grant program is authorized to
    receive up to $12 million per year.
  • Fish and wildlife regional projects: The bill authorizes up to
    $6 million each year for the USFWS to undertake projects that have
    a regional benefit to fish and wildlife. Under this new authority,
    the USFWS would undertake projects based on the recommendations of
    states and tribes.
  • Studies and reports: The USFWS will submit a report to Congress
    in 2011 that describes the fish and wildlife grants that have been
    awarded and the results of those grants.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will maintain a public access Web
site for states and tribes on what grants have been awarded,
priorities proposed for funding in the budget, and actions taken in
support of Great Lakes regional collaboration.

Gildo Tori, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited’s
Great Lakes/Atlantic regional office, said his organization was
hopeful that the fish and wildlife proposal will receive additional
funding in the budget.

The authorizing language increases from $8 million to $20
million under the bill, but support from budget leaders will be
required to see the enhanced funding.

“It’s going to be a battle to get significant appropriations,”
Tori said.

Supporters of the comprehensive plan note similar restoration
projects for the Florida Everglades took years to implement and
hope to build momentum this year in the larger fight to improve the
lakes.

“The challenge now is to muster the political will nationally to
really inspire the comprehensive help the Great Lakes need,” said
Jordan Lubetkin, a spokesman for the Great Lakes office of the
National Wildlife Federation.

DeWine is also a co-sponsor of the National Aquatic Invasive
Species Act, a measure to increase efforts to prevent the
introduction of invasive species and to ensure a rapid response
when potentially damaging species invasions occur.

In related news, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator Stephen Johnson recently named Gary Gulezian senior
manager of Great Lakes restoration efforts under a 2004 executive
order from President George W. Bush that created the Great Lakes
Interagency Task Force. The group was designed to bring together 10
agencies and more than 140 Great Lakes federal programs. Gulezian
is currently office director for the Great Lakes National Program
and a chairman of the multi-agency task force to study the
lakes.

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