By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service
LANSING—The Great Lakes face another serious environmental threat besides Asian carp, experts warn: coastal wetlands disturbance.
“The development of coastal wetlands is the biggest problem,” said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “People are coming in and they need places for water fun development. As a result, we are losing wetlands.”
Coastal wetlands provide habitat for rare species, wildlife and more than 90 percent of Great Lakes fish. Extensive wetlands once flourished along the shorelines, especially along Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Saginaw Bay.
Prior to the mid-1970s, the destruction of wetlands through dredging, draining and filling were permitted practices.
As a result, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan has lost approximately one-half of its wetland resources since European settlement.
That means wildlife is losing its place to live.
“Human activity is the most direct cause. People fill in wetlands which changes the water level of them,” said Alan Steinman, director of the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) in Muskegon.
AWRI is working on Great Lakes water level around the Upper Peninsula with the International Joint Commission in Traverse City and on regulations for Lake Superior.
Environmental organizations, including the council, are making efforts to protect wetlands.
Erin McDonough, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs pointed to a $475 million Obama administration proposal to preserve and improve the ecosystem of Great Lakes communities.
Also, the council is cooperating with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey to purify water, control flood and protect wildlife.
“We made a great effort last year to keep Michigan’s landmark wetland protection law run by the state instead of the federal government. We are really happy to see that program remains this year,” Clift said.
“The environmental community believes having the state continue administration of the program is the best way to protect the Great Lakes and eliminates barriers to the recovery of Michigan’s economy,” he said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.