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The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

United States Great Lakes Program Report on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

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NONPOINT SOURCE POLLUTION

Most point sources of toxic loadings to the Great Lakes Basin are well understood and controlled. The biggest remaining water quality problem is polluted runoff (so-called nonpoint source pollution) that carries pollutants from many diverse sources into our streams, lakes, and rivers. These pollutants can be pesticides, fertilizer nutrients, household chemicals, gasoline, and used motor oil. Source areas include farm fields, urban streets and parking lots, suburban lawns, golf courses, construction sites, and atmospheric deposition. To help address this issue, EPA's national water program is making a major transition from a program based on technology-based controls, to one based on water quality-based controls implemented on a watershed basis. This shift is known as the Healthy Watershed Strategy. Technology-based controls, such as secondary treatment of sewage, effluent limitations guidelines for industrial sources, and management practices for some nonpoint sources, have dramatically reduced water pollution and laid the foundation for further progress. The next step is the establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for toxics entering into water bodies from both point and nonpoint sources. TMDLs will help manage water quality on a watershed scale. EPA, working in full partnership with States and Tribes, will work to establish TMDLs for all listed waters, and will work with these partners to ensure that all load allocations established by TMDLs are implemented by point and nonpoint sources alike.

EXCESSIVE NUTRIENT LOADINGS

As reported in the 1995 Biennial Progress Report, all of the U.S./Canadian open water phosphorus target levels have been achieved through the combined efforts to improve the performance of sewage treatment plants, reduce levels of phosphorus in detergents, and the implementation of agricultural Best Management Practices. Current loads are clearly below the target loads of the 1978 Agreement for Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, and are at or near target limits for Lakes Erie and Ontario. Lake Erie still is experiencing brief periods of anoxia in some areas in its central basin. The 1997 State of the Great Lakes Report reviewed nutrient data since 1994 and concluded that no appreciable change has occurred in the nutrient status of the lakes and that they continue to meet the targets for phosphorus reduction in the Agreement. This continuing success is due to the implementation of a number of programs to control soil erosion, sedimentation, and other forms of nonpoint source control.

Figure 12: Fertilizer Use in the Great Lakes Basin
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Figure 13: Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie


Conservation tillage is rapidly becoming the primary cultivation practice in the Basin, affecting more than 70 percent of the total acreage in many counties, and 48 percent of the acreage basinwide. This has resulted in decreased erosion rates and chemical losses. Here is but one example.

Figure 14: Conservation Tillage in the Great Lakes Basin
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Figure 15: No-Till in the Great Lakes Basin
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Agricultural runoff is a top priority for the Maumee River AOC, with 75 percent of the watershed in agricultural use. Every year, 10.3 million tons of soil erodes in the Basin, carrying more sediment than any other Great Lakes tributary, much of which settles in the Toledo Harbor shipping channel, which needs to be dredged of 500,000 tons of sediment annually at a cost of $3.4 million. Many agencies are partnering with local landowners to reduce sediments, nutrients and pesticide runoff. EPA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Soil and Water Conservation District programs combine financial and technical resources to address runoff issues. Just one of these programs, NRCS's Western Lake Erie Environmental Quality Improvement Program, if implemented as proposed, would help meet phosphorus reduction goals, decrease Toledo Harbor sedimentation by 15 percent, alleviate the need for the construction of a new CDF, reduce annual dredging costs by approximately $270,000, limit nitrate in drinking water, restore acres of wetlands, and improve fish spawning habitat.

Ohio's Coastal Management Program (CMP) was approved in June 1997. The program allows a more coordinated approach to activities conducted in the coastal area. It also makes Ohio eligible for additional Federal and State funding to protect Ohio's Lake Erie coast and control erosion. An additional goal of the CMP is to improve public access to the lake and to preserve the natural areas along the lake.

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION AND COMPLIANCE

The commitment to ecosystem protection is buttressed by strong compliance with and enforcement of environmental laws. State and Federal agencies continue to develop necessary regulations and take enforcement actions around the Great Lakes region. Some examples follow:

Significant decreases in point source discharges have been brought about through the Great Lakes Enforcement Strategy, an important Federal/State partnership to protect the Great Lakes. Point source discharges of selected pollutants such as PCBs, PAHs, lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury have dramatically decreased during the six years of the Strategy. When violations are found during Strategy activities, EPA can use Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) and injunctive relief to correct the problem and to improve the environment. A SEP is a project, not strictly necessary for compliance, that a violator agrees to undertake as part of a settlement, to better the environment. Injunctive relief requires the violator to cease the environmentally injurious behavior. Between FY 1993 and FY 1996, Great Lakes Basin SEPs have yielded $59 million in environmental protection (pollution reduction, pollution prevention, etc.) while injunctive relief has yielded $943 million during the same period. These totals include $49 million in injunctive relief and $28.2 million in SEPs in northwest Indiana and $180 million in injunctive relief at a POTW in southeast Michigan.

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Agricultural practices are being implemented to reduce runoff of chemicals and soil from farmland

EPA's pulp and paper industry "cluster rule" will combine efforts to control both air and water pollution from the pulp, paper, and paperboard industry. The air standards aim to reduce toxic emissions by 70 percent from current levels and would also reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, which are prime ozone precursors. The water provisions of the proposal would significantly reduce dioxin discharges. The rule is anticipated to be finalized by the end of 1997.

Two oil and natural gas pipeline companies will spend almost $3 million to restore fish, wildlife, and other natural resources of Fish Creek (from Dekalb County, Indiana to Williams County, Ohio) injured by the release of more than 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel when an underground pipeline ruptured in September 1993. Money resulting from the settlement, which included the two companies, the States of Indiana and Ohio, the FWS, and the Department of Justice, will be devoted to improving water quality in Fish Creek, returning fish, mussel, and wildlife populations to pre-spill levels, implementing local educational programs, and protecting the waterway from future harm. Fish Creek is considered one of the Great Lakes region's most diverse and ecologically important streams and is the only known habitat for the endangered white cat's paw pearly mussel.

The Great Lakes Fishery Trust (the Trust) was created in 1996 as part of a settlement agreement addressing fish losses at the Ludington, Michigan Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project. Many millions of fish have been killed by the project, which has been in operation since 1973. The U.S. Department of the Interior, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), several Indian Tribes, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and the National Wildlife Federation reached a negotiated settlement with the owners in 1994, resolving outstanding issues. Major components of the settlement include: maintenance of a seasonal net at the project intake to minimize the number of fish killed by the facility; annual compensation payments by the utility, based on the net's effectiveness, to the Trust; provision of improved angler access at the utility's properties at several sites and payment for improvements to public access for pier fishing on Lake Michigan; and transfer of ownership of 10,800 acres of land in Michigan by the owners to the Trust. The Trust will use proceeds from the sale of transferred lands and compensation payments to make grants for projects that benefit the Great Lakes fishery.

The U.S. is pursuing cleanup and restoration of natural resources at sites impacted by contaminants through Natural Resource Damage Assessments (NRDAs). The major goals of NRDAs are to eliminate or reduce the impact of persistent contaminants on natural resources, to restore the services and benefits provided to the public by natural resources, and to collect monetary damages for injuries to natural resources. NRDAs are being conducted in Northwest Indiana, Saginaw River, Michigan, and the Fox River, Wisconsin.

In 1996, a NRDA Pre-Assessment Screen was signed for the Grand Calumet area in northwest Indiana. The Trustees, which include IDEM, IDNR, FWS, and the National Park Service (NPS), determined that damage to natural resources occurred in the area due to releases of hazardous substances and oil, and have to date identified 16 PRPs. The final assessment plan which will serve as the guiding document for all damage assessment activities was completed in October 1997 with implementation beginning immediately thereafter.

The pace of Superfund site cleanups in the Great Lakes and throughout the nation has greatly increased. More Superfund sites have been cleaned up in the past three years than in all of the prior years of the program combined. In 1996, while visiting Kalamazoo, Michigan, President Clinton announced the "Kalamazoo Initiative" whose goal is to have 900 National Priorities List (NPL) sites completely remediated by the year 2000. Of the approximately 112 sites in EPA Region 5's part of the Great Lakes watershed, all cleanup construction has been completed at 55 sites, which means all long-term response actions are in place. Many of these sites have been completely remediated. In New York State at the St. Lawrence River - Massena AOC, cleanup activities at three industrial sites are in the process of removing tens of thousands of cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediments.

PROTECTING THE HEALTH OF BASIN RESIDENTS

EPA is continuing to compile health information from various studies being implemented by the Great Lakes Human Health Effects Research Program. This program, mandated by Congress, addresses the potentially adverse human health effects from consuming Great Lakes fish on particularly sensitive populations. This group includes pregnant women, nursing mothers, fetuses and nursing infants, infants and children, Native Americans, sport anglers, urban poor, and the elderly. The program is being administered by ATSDR. A Report to Congress was produced in 1995, which described the research program, and summarized the literature on this subject in both the Great Lakes and internationally. The findings from the program, when finalized, will be issued in a new report which will provide key information that Great Lakes policymakers need to further protect the health of the citizens of the Basin.

Recent preliminary findings from ATSDR's Great Lakes Human Health Effects Research Program support earlier reports of an association between the consumption of contaminated Great Lakes fish and body burdens of persistent toxic substances (PTSs). The body burdens of consumers are two to four times higher than those in the general population. These findings also indicate:


A variety of research programs are working
to help protect the health of Basin residents

ATSDR, Health Canada, and the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services co-sponsored in May 1997, an International Scientific Conference on the effects of the Environment on Human Health in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basins. The sponsors and participants concluded that the weight of evidence based on the findings of wildlife biologists, toxicologists, and epidemiologists clearly indicates that at-risk populations continue to be exposed to PTSs. These exposures to PTSs have the potential to cause adverse human health outcomes, i.e., reproductive, developmental, neurobehavioral, and immunologic effects. Although the levels of some of these chemicals have declined, they are still a cause of great concern to the Great Lakes ecosystem and human health.

Improved Protection for Drinking Water and Ground Water

EPA continues to promote the Partnership for Safe Water, a non-regulatory approach to reducing the potential risk from Cryptosporidium and other microbial contaminants in community drinking water supplies. This is a joint effort between EPA, drinking water associations, and community drinking water suppliers. In 1996, over 79 million people nationwide received their water from a participating supplier, nearly a threefold increase over the previous year. Outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis in several municipalities in the Great Lakes Basin due to contaminated drinking water indicate that infectious diseases can still pose serious problems. However, the Great Lakes continue to provide an excellent source of drinking water.

The "Milwaukee Nearshore Study" was initiated between GLERL, the University of Wisconsin, and the City of Milwaukee from 1994 to 1996 in response to the Cryptosporidium contamination of Milwaukee's drinking water supply in 1993. The goals of the study were to evaluate alternatives for improving the quality of the source water, and to identify and evaluate possible new water intake locations. It was found that the Spring 1993 contamination was associated with highly turbid, contaminated river water that discharged into the harbor and periodically flowed from the harbor as a plume that covered the site of the water intake. In order to prevent similar contamination events in the future, it was recommend that the present Texas Avenue Water Intake be relocated by adding a 4,000 foot extension pipeline, and that the municipal water filtration system be upgraded. The City of Milwaukee adopted these recommendations in 1996.

Programs under the SDWA of 1996 are providing a new era of cost-effective protection of drinking water quality, State flexibility, and citizen involvement. The Act's overall goal is that by the year 2005, 95 percent of the U.S. population served by public water supply systems will have drinking water that meets all SDWA standards. Programs under the SDWA offer tools and opportunities to build a prevention barrier to drinking water contamination. The centerpiece of the SDWA is the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), a mechanism to assist public water systems to finance the costs of infrastructure improvement.


The Great Lakes continue to provide
an excellent source of drinking water

State Source Water Assessments (funded by the DWSRF) will similarly identify those areas that are sources of public drinking water (ground water and surface water), assess water systems' susceptibility to contamination, and inform the public of the results. Though not required in the SDWA, EPA is encouraging States to utilize these assessments to develop protection programs. The SDWA amendments allow States to transfer funds from the DWSRF to the Waste Water State Revolving Fund, thus allowing the targeting of these funds for those projects which will provide the most environmental benefits.

There is also a major shift in focus in the new SDWA for achieving better drinking water protection through prevention rather than treatment. This builds upon the existing Wellhead Protection Program (WHPP), which protects ground water sources of drinking water through identification of well recharge areas, as well as potential contamination sources, and developing management plans to minimize the threats. All of the EPA Region 5 States have approved WHPPs and are at various stages of implementation at the local level. Efforts are being made to educate the public about protecting their ground water resources and to provide communities with technical assistance in developing their WHPPs.

During FY 1996, in EPA Region 5, more than 1,100 public water systems returned to compliance, either through formal enforcement actions or through compliance assistance means. For example, in cooperation with IDEM, EPA participated in workshops targeted to 900 violators of nitrate monitoring requirements. To date, 780 systems have voluntarily returned to compliance.

In 1994, five companies, IDEM, and EPA agreed to work on the Grand Calumet Cooperative Project, a voluntary cleanup of petroleum contaminated ground water adjacent to the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal. The three companies which found onsite contamination are engaged in ongoing remediation. In 1997, a similar effort was initiated with petroleum pipeline owners in the area, with the intent of identifying leaking and unused pipelines which contribute to ground water contamination.

HABITAT PROTECTION AND ENHANCEMENT

Native Great Lakes ecosystems, including forests, rivers, lakes, wetlands, dunes, savannas, and prairies, provide habitats upon which a diversity of plant and animal species depend. Whereas the absolute number of acres undergoing habitat conversion today is much less than in prior eras, the current percentage rate of loss of the little natural habitat that remains is quite high and threatens the health and survival of many Great Lakes species. Under a variety of unique programs and partnerships at the Federal, State, and local landowner levels, a large number of wetland and upland habitat creation, protection, restoration, and enhancement activities are being conducted. The following examples describe a broad range of actions by a variety of agencies and organizations which are protecting significant ecosystems and restoring degraded areas. Much of the needed work is being done as stewardship of the Great Lakes ecosystem orients itself towards the goal of protecting and restoring ecosystem health. This is important in both environmental and economic terms. Fishing, hunting, bird-watching and other wildlife-related recreation continue to be enjoyed by 77 million Americans annually, with wildlife remaining a remarkable engine for economic growth and job creation, accounting for approximately $104 billion (1.4 percent of the U.S. economy) in 1996.

A variety of provisions contained in the 1996 Farm Bill such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetland Reserve Program have provided significant acreage of wildlife habitat in recent years. The Swampbuster provision of the Farm Bill and the wetland protection provisions of the Clean Water Act have also helped conserve waterfowl habitat. And sportsmen and conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited have conserved and restored millions of acres of prime habitat. These types of actions have helped duck breeding populations rise sharply in 1997 with most species currently above the numerical goals of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

In addition to rural areas, much important habitat is located in urban and urbanizing areas. An example is in the greater Chicago region where an innovative approach is being taken to address the loss of natural habitat and biodiversity. The region covers the lakebed of glacial Lake Chicago and extends from Chiwaukie Prairie in southeastern Wisconsin to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It contains eight million people together with a surprisingly rich mix of prairies, woodlands, dunes, beaches, streams and wetlands, 200,000 acres of which is in public ownership and provides habitat for many rare plants and animals.

Figure 16: U.S. and Canadian Eco-Regions
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To save this natural legacy, 36 governmental and non-governmental organizations have joined to form the Chicago Region Biodiversity Council which in turn has created "Chicago Wilderness", a program devoted to protecting and restoring the biodiversity of the region. The Council and the Chicago Wilderness program are actively working to involve a wide network of people to build support for a locally based ecosystem approach to restoring the ecological integrity of the region. A major step is the publication of Chicago Wilderness: An Atlas of Biodiversity which seeks to inform the public of the wonders of the region. It is intended to form the base for a biodiversity recovery plan now in development for the region. The intent is to assess all of the naturally occurring ecological communities of the region and to ensure that they are sustained on a permanent basis.

In the southeast Lake Michigan region, the National Park Service (NPS) has been directed by Congress to study portions of the Lake Calumet area to determine the feasibility of establishing an urban ecological park. The "Calumet Ecological Park" feasibility study was initiated in May 1997 and will assess the area's natural and cultural resources, the physical and cultural relationships between these resources, and how these resources portray the area's changing landscape.

Figure 17: Protected Lands in Chicago Wilderness Region
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An area of approximately 15 acres across the street from the Gary, Indiana Airport, had hazardous wastes (PCBs and petroleum wastes) illegally disposed of on site into a wetland associated with a relatively large tract of remnant dune and swale habitat. In 1996, EPA spent $4 million removing 10,250 tons of TSCA level PCB wastes from the wetlands at this site as part of its Superfund removal program. In addition, more than 500,000 gallons of contaminated water was removed and treated at the site. With a tremendous amount of effort on FWS and IDEM's part, including almost weekly site visits to assist them, EPA recreated two dune ridges and planted the site to oak savannah prairie. This property is a restoration show case for how EPA and natural resource trustees can cooperate on Superfund actions for the benefit of an area's natural resources.

The Long Point Bird Observatory (LPBO) takes advantage of its location on the north shore of Lake Erie to collect a wealth of information about North American birds and their movements. By the end of 1995, LPBO had banded over 260 species. The recapture or recovery of songbirds at sites across the continent has added greatly to our understanding of bird migration and biology. In addition, LPBO is conducting the Marsh Monitoring Program. In each of the 42 AOCs, volunteers monitor bird and amphibian populations. Spatial and temporal comparisons of marsh bird and amphibian populations in AOCs versus other marshes, both on a local and basinwide scale, provide an indication of the success of habitat rehabilitation activities and an ongoing measure of the health of the marshes and wildlife communities.

GLNPO's April 1996 report, Mining Ideas, shows that from 1992 through 1995, GLNPO awarded over $8.5 million in grants for 87 projects to 36 local, Tribal, State, and Federal agencies and non-governmental organizations which collaborated with some 240 partners to protect and restore habitats. By funding demonstration projects, GLNPO helped to increase the quality and extent of native ecosystems of the Great Lakes Basin and fostered a greater understanding of ecosystem processes and functions, greater participation by partners in on-the-ground protection and restoration activities, and a dawning awareness by the public of the special and valuable nature of Great Lakes systems, communities, and species.

During 1995, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and NYSDEC joined to develop a management plan for the stretch of beach along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. By encouraging people to stay on the beach, TNC and NYSDEC provided ecologically sensitive access between Sandy Pond and the Lake Ontario beach. TNC, NYSDEC, and the volunteer Friends of Sandy Pond Beach share management responsibilities. In July 1996, all parties joined together to dedicate the recent beach/dune access improvements at Sandy Pond and at Lakeview Wildlife Management Area, Deer Creek Marsh Wildlife Area, and Southwick Beach State Park, all part of the 17-mile stretch of Lake Ontario shoreline that is considered the eastern Lake Ontario "megasite".

Figure 18: Eastern Lake Ontario Megasite
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The loss of coastal marsh habitat for fish and wildlife in the Great Lakes has occurred at an alarming rate during the 20th century as a result of both human and natural causes. Today, there is less than 10 percent remaining of the 300,000-acre "Great Black Swamp" that bordered western Lake Erie before 1800. A partnership consisting of the FWS, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, EPA, Ducks Unlimited, and other private conservation groups, with the support of locally elected members of Congress, has completed construction associated with the restoration of Metzger Marsh, which may serve as a model for coastal wetland restoration in other parts of the Great Lakes. Construction of water level/fish control structures and other features will protect this 900 acre wetland from storm damage and will allow this area to once again provide a diverse aquatic plant community and habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife species. The Metzger Marsh project is one of ten flagship projects of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan which was created to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands from Mexico to Canada.

Double-crested cormorant populations have increased dramatically in the Great Lakes in the last two decades. Many citizens and interest groups believe the species is adversely impacting sport fisheries. The FWS helped support a study by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) to determine the impacts of cormorants on a yellow perch fishery in Lake Huron. Preliminary results show that the cormorants have little overall impact on the perch, which confirms patterns found in similar studies elsewhere. FWS is monitoring cormorant populations throughout the Great Lakes to better understand population trends and distribution, is working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on a cormorant informational brochure for the public, and has organized a symposium to be held in December 1997 on cormorant biology and management in the Midwest.

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Double-crested cormorant populations
have increased dramatically over the last two decades

Saginaw Bay, a major stopover site for three million waterfowl that migrate annually through the Great Lakes region, is getting a major cleanup. The U.S. Migratory Bird Conservation Commission approved more than $750,000 for wetlands restoration on and in 22 counties that drain into Saginaw Bay. That makes more than $3 million in local, State and private money earmarked for restoration of more than 2,500 acres. A partnership of the FWS, Ducks Unlimited, and the MDNR will select private property eligible for wetlands restoration.

The Lake Erie water snake, which occurs only on the islands of western Lake Erie in Ohio and Canada and on some shorelines of Ohio's Catawba-Marblehead Peninsula, is currently proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The FWS and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources have been encouraging island residents and visitors in 1996 and 1997 to "live and let live" in sharing the islands with these water snakes. Efforts have included increasing public awareness, improved landowners stewardship, and positive media attention. If these conservation efforts are successful, FWS may not need to list the snake or it may recover and allow delisting more quickly.

Some 22,600 acres of privately held heavily forested land in northeastern Minnesota has been acquired by the State for preservation and public enjoyment in what has been described as a "win-win" situation for all parties involved. Minnesota Power decided that it no longer needed the shoreline property for hydroelectric purposes and announced its sale, giving the State and counties first option. The State raised $4.2 million for about 80 percent of the land and Minnesota Power donated the remaining 20 percent, valued at $1.1 million. The purchase by the State of this property along the St. Louis, Cloquet, and Whiteface Rivers means that most of the 150 miles of shoreline along the three rivers, which drain 3,500 square miles of northeastern Minnesota before emptying into Lake Superior, will remain largely undeveloped and mostly preserved in a natural state. Minnesota has also completed restoration of plant and animal habitat at Grassy Point, an estuarine wetland in the St. Louis River at Duluth.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has a number of programs for protecting water quality and aquatic habitat in the Great Lakes. During FY 1995, USFS completed a variety of inventories on stream, lake, and terrestrial ecological units; completed 150 miles of stream and 1,370 acres of lake habitat restoration; continued working with State and non-profit organizations on ecological classification, inventory, and mapping of watersheds and aquatic environments; began compiling geo-spatial databases for terrestrial ecological units, streams, and lakes in national forests in the Basin; compiled a geo-spatial database on human and natural conditions in the Upper Great Lakes; worked with States on nonpoint water pollution control, as affected by forest management practices; and continued research and technology transfer on watershed processes, forest health, landscape ecology, atmospheric deposition, managing riparian resources, and fish habitat.

The Nature Conservancy is undertaking an eco-regional prioritization effort with the support of the Mott Foundation and EPA. The goals are to develop clear objectives and recommendations for conservation of natural communities and vulnerable species at a regional level, to identify a portfolio of conservation sites within ecologically defined local areas, and to engage local partners in conservation planning and activities.

During the 1996 SOLEC, the Land by the Lakes paper identified 20 "biodiversity investment areas" on the Great Lakes shoreline having clusters of exceptional biodiversity value. These areas present opportunities to create large protected areas that will preserve ecological integrity and, ultimately, help protect the health of the lakes themselves. For SOLEC 1998, the 20 nearshore terrestrial biodiversity investment areas will be described more fully. In addition, biodiversity investment areas for coastal wetland and nearshore aquatic areas will be identified.

 


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