Two weekends ago, governors and senior staff of the Great Lake states and the premiers of Quebec and Ontario met for the first time since 2005 to commit to strengthening the region’s economy and protecting the Great Lakes.
In passing resolutions related to a number of trade and water-related issues, these leaders made a solid commitment to work together not only to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, but to prevent the introduction of new invaders into the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Aquatic invasives can lead to the decline of native plant, fish and wildlife populations. But they are not just an ecological issue; they also pose a serious economic threat. A 2012 report by Anderson Economic Group commissioned by The Nature Conservancy confirmed that state and federal governments spend millions controlling and preventing their spread. Industries like sport and commercial fishing, water treatment, power generation and tourism are all affected by this threat; together, these industries employ more than 125,000 workers in the Great Lakes region. The cost of controlling zebra mussels at one water treatment facility alone is approximately $353,000 annually.
The correlation between healthy ecosystems and healthy economies was presented to the governors by Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, in his keynote address to the council. This is a theme he explores at length in his new book, “Nature’s Fortune,” which describes the myriad benefits that come from investing in nature.
Continued investment in controlling aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes will be essential to preserving our fresh waters and the growth of our local economies.
To that end, The Nature Conservancy is gearing up for a major initiative this summer to dispatch a team across the region that will comb Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, the Finger Lakes and Chautauqua Lake in search of hydrilla and other interlopers. Hydrilla has already been found in the Erie Canal in Tonawanda and the Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca. Our field team will hunt down these intruders and train others to find them before they spread.
But to ensure that our results and those of other groups are long-lasting, we must also address other challenges, including the trade of live organisms, which may inadvertently introduce invasive species to our natural habitats; the spread of invasive species by maritime shipping and artificial waterways; and how to manage invasive species already present in our lakes and rivers.
It won’t be an easy task, but it’s a necessary one. The Great Lakes are shared waters, and invasive species can only be managed effectively when everyone is on the same page. The commitment by our regional leaders to work together paves the way for unified policies for managing this threat. More Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding and continued investment is the natural next step.
Page 2 of 2 - Jim Howe is director of The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter, which has protected nearly 100,000 acres in the region for people and nature. Learn more at nature.org/newyork.