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COMMUNITY VOICE

Leaders working to prevent spread of invasive species in Great Lakes

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 12:01 am

Just over a week 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 his opening remarks, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence summed it up well: “We can pursue a clean environment and we can pursue economic growth as mutual objectives.” That set the stage for two days of progress born out of a common interest — protecting the incredible resources of the Great Lakes.

In passing resolutions related to a number of trade and water-related issues, the regional leaders made a solid commitment toward working together not only to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, but to prevent the introduction of new aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes ecosystem. More than 180 non-native species have now become established, with a number of them being classified as “invasive” because they have serious economic or environmental impacts.

Aquatic invasive species are responsible for the destruction of natural habitat and the decline of native plant, fish and wildlife populations. Again, it is not just an ecological issue; aquatic invasives also pose a series 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 the spread of aquatic invasive species. Industries like sport and commercial fishing, water treatment, power generation and tourism are all affected by this threat; together, they 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.

For our local economy here in Indiana, continued investment in the Great Lakes and efforts to control aquatic invasive species is paramount to the preservation of our freshwater system and the growth of our economy.

To prevent the further spread of these organisms, we must address some specific challenges, including the trade of live organisms, which may inadvertently introduce invasive species to our natural habitats, the surveillance and response to the spread of invasive species by maritime shipping and artificial waterways and how to manage the invasive species that are 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 works collaboratively. The commitment by our regional leaders to work together paves the way for unified policies for managing this threat.

More funding to restore the Great Lakes — through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) — and continued investment is the natural next step.

Mary McConnell is the state director for The Nature Conservancy in Indiana. She has spent more than 20 years working on the protection and conservation of Indiana’s natural areas and freshwater systems. She currently serves on the Bicentennial Commission, which oversees the Bicentennial Nature Trust, a statewide program aimed at expanding trails, conservation areas and recreation sites to help celebrate Indiana’s 200 years of statehood in 2016.