Great Lakes Initiative gets closer to passage

Gaylord, Mich. – Gildo Tori doesn’t actually have any experience
“drinking from a firehose,” but that might change for him and other
conservationists, at least metaphorically.

Tori, director of public policy at Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes
and Atlantic regional office in Ann Arbor, used that phrase to
describe the surge of projects that could be funded with passage of
the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Tori spoke to members of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor
Writers, meeting here in late September.

The U.S. House passed a $475 million Great Lakes Initiative bill
late this summer, and the Senate passed its own $400 million
version in late September. A conference committee will shape a
compromise between the two and send it on to President Obama.

That inking seems almost certain, since Obama launched the
funding effort and is pushing for full funding, according to Tori
and the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, of which DU is a
member.

“A key is that more than $100 million is set for fish and
wildlife habitat and species so the GLRI will be a huge boost for
recreational anglers and hunters,” Tori said.

The GLI aims at some of the Great Lakes’ most urgent threats,
said the coalition, including invasive species, toxic pollution,
and habitat protection and restoration.

The package, said the DU official, has four focuses: targeting
the most significant uses of the Great Lakes; funding programs that
are result- and action-oriented; working to get communities to work
together; and maintain transparency and accountability.”

Receiving the biggest share, as the bill originally was drafted,
would be toxic substance control, at 31 percent, Tori said. Habitat
and wildlife would get 22 percent, non-point pollution control 20
percent, accountability 14 percent, and invasive species 13
percent.

“DU, when we first heard about it, began working with states and
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We knew we needed to have
projects ready to go, shovel-ready as they say. We drafted a list,
which included 13,000 acres and $25 million in projects in
Michigan, including things like Saginaw Bay coastal wetlands
restoration and phragmites control.

“We’re looking at refuge and wildlife areas, too. It seems
development is coming right up to the borders of many of them, and
we’re looking at establishing buffers using conservation easements
and other tools.”

Tori said that although the funding effort came from the Obama
administration, it was former President George W. Bush who
established a Great Lakes Regional Collaborative, “and said, ‘Get a
plan together, and we’ll talk about (funding) resources later,’ ”
said Tori of Bush’s order. “That didn’t happen, though, until the
Obama administration took over.”

Where in the past funding was divided among agencies within the
bill, in this package the money would be coordinated through the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An effect of the GLI would be its stimulating effect on the
regional economy.

“We’re looking to our congressional leaders to seal the deal, so
that we can invest in solutions now that will create jobs in the
short term, while paving the way for long-term economic growth and
prosperity,”” said Jeff Skelding, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes
Coalition’s campaign director, in a news release

The Brookings Institution found that the region will gain at
least $2 in economic benefit for every $1 invested in Great Lakes
restoration, the coalition reported.

“We look forward to working with House and Senate leaders to
fully fund this initiative at $475 million to restore the Great
Lakes, jump-start the economy, safeguard public health, and uphold
our quality of life,” Skelding said. “We have solutions to problems
such as toxic pollution and invasive species. It is time to use
them.”

Tori said the bill’s effect will be seen in “more wetlands, more
quality uplands, more buffers, more work on invasive species, more
habitat for wildlife and people, leading to a healthier and more
sustainable Great Lakes region.”

For more information, visit: http://www.healthylakes.org/, or
www.epa.gov/greatlakes/gli.

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