The National Wildlife Federation’s recent report, Protecting and Restoring the Kidneys of the Great Lakes: An Assessment of Wetlands Programs in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, has reinvigorated ongoing efforts to improve wetland protection in Michigan. Michigan is one of two states that has a federally delegated wetland protection program, but for budgetary and political reasons the state is considering dropping its wetland protection program, leaving only the federal government to do the job (and to manage all of the permit requests).
While the Great Lakes region has lost over 50 percent of its wetlands (and some coastal areas of the Great Lakes have seen 95 percent declines), NWF’s report offers numerous recommendations to change this trend and better protect Great Lakes wetlands. For starters, Michigan must continue its state wetland protection program, and strengthen it with more funding and resources for assessment and enforcement. Michigan should also modify or eliminate the statutory exemption language for small isolated wetlands (wetlands less than five acres in size that are not contiguous to a body of water), as these wetlands are critical for preventing runoff pollution and protecting water quality.
As the debate over wetland protection in Michigan heats up, the conservation community is taking their research and message directly to the public, demonstrating the importance of Michigan’s wetlands for both our economy and the health of the Great Lakes in a series of Detroit Free Press opinion columns:
- Dr. Mike Murray, a staff scientist with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office and a co-author of the NWF wetlands report, writes that wetlands don’t get enough respect despite being critically important for water quality, flood prevention, and wildlife habitat.
- Jennifer McKay, a policy specialist with Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, presents the numerous economic, policy, and environmental reasons to keep Michigan in charge of wetlands instead of relying only on the federal government for wetland protection in the state.
- Marc Smith, the Great Lakes state policy manager for the National Wildlife Federation, details how the Clean Water Restoration Act would be a much needed federal boost for wetlands.
- Erin McDonough, the deputy director of policy for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (and my former colleague), explains how wetlands boost the economy in Michigan, with hunters, anglers and trappers contributing more than $10.3 billion every year to Michigan’s economy.
This policy work and public outreach should convince Michigan’s political leaders to continue the state wetlands program and not leave it only to the federal government to protect one of our state’s most important natural resources. Instead, Michigan must strengthen its wetlands program as a key component of protecting and restoring the Great Lakes.