Author Archives: kadymcfaddenil

Saving the Great Lakes has never been a partisan issue

For our honeymoon, my husband and I biked from Vancouver, BC to Crater Lake National Park in Oregon – 1,200 miles in 5 weeks through some of the most beautiful parts of this country. On that trip, it was common to see other folks on bikes loaded up with their tent, gear and sleeping bags also touring the area. 

We were excited when one morning on our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes we saw a bicyclist with a packed bike stopped on the side of the road – our first fellow bike tourer sighting this trip. We slowed down to say hello and ask where he was headed. “North,” he replied, and we all laughed. “Us too,” we said and invited TJ to ride along with us. He joined us all day for our ride and meal breaks, and we chatted almost the entire ride.

TJ had started biking from his home in Rochester, Indiana two days before. He rode a beastly 280 miles in his first two days – a feat which just thinking about makes my whole body ache. His family was planning to meet him in Northport, Michigan where they would vacation together. Back in Rochester, TJ is a firefighter and has two young sons. We heard lots of great stories about his boys and adventures as a firefighter along the ride.

 

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A quick selfie with TJ before he left us to continue biking for the day

We were eager to be headed for the Sleeping Bear Dunes – a jewel in Lake Michigan’s crown. Sandy beaches, forested islands, 450-foot dunes, and manifold species of animals and plants are protected here by the National Park Service and are enjoyed by millions of visitors during all four seasons.  

But during the summer of 2006, an unwelcome guest showed up on Sleeping Bear’s shores. Thousands of birds were dropping dead on the region’s pristine beaches after losing the ability to hold their heads up and fly. Scientists determined the culprit was a disease called type E avian botulism, which first came to Lake Michigan in the 1960s but hadn’t made a resurgence since 1983.

Avian botulism is caused by toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. These toxins often concentrate in aquatic invertebrates like invasive zebra or quagga mussels, which are commonly ingested by bottom-feeding fish that then get gobbled up by birds like gulls and loons, for which the toxin is paralytic and lethal.

In 2010 the National Park Service and a coalition of conservation research partners received funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to study these avian botulism outbreaks. Researchers measured changes to coastal habitats that are affected by the increase in botulism, and mapped and documented past lake changes in order to understand and predict botulism outbreaks in the future. 

Future steps in the project include a continuation of monitoring and managing outbreaks, and increasing nonprofit and volunteer involvement in data collection and beach cleanups. Funding from the GLRI is necessary for the fight to decrease avian botulism and keep the integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem intact.

Up on the dunes, the GLRI is helping stop a terrestrial invasive species from further hurting Sleeping Bear’s ecosystem. Known scientifically as Gypsophilia paniculata, baby’s breath is a pretty white flower native to Eastern Europe and commonly found in gardens across the United States. But careless planting in the Great Lakes region has turned baby’s breath into an aggressive invasive species.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has funded a project to manage the invasive plant along 100 acres of the Lakeshore and to study its effects on the ecosystem. The project aims to measure and catalog the location and spread of baby’s breath, remove the plants physically and with herbicide, and observe changes that occur from season to season.

Eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be devastating to these efforts at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and many others like it dedicated to keeping our Lakes healthy and clean.

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Throughout our day, I told TJ about the work that I do and our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes. He told me that growing up in Rochester, he takes his two boys up to Benton Harbor or the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore every summer. When I asked, he told me he “leaned right” politically, but didn’t quite seem to see how that was relevant to us talking about keeping our Great Lakes healthy.

Protecting the Great Lakes, our drinking water, and the economy they drive has long been a bipartisan issue. We can’t let hyper-partisanship in politics get in the way of protecting the Great Lakes. The GLRI protects our drinking water, creates jobs, protects public health, keeps beaches open and upholds a way of life for millions of people. Donald Trump’s Great Lakes cuts should be dead on arrival for all members of Congress from our region. And we must stand up together to #SaveTheGreatLakes.

Right before TJ left us to continue on his way, he told us, “I’ve been out East to the ocean once or twice. But I don’t know what it is, I just prefer the Great Lakes.”

I can’t put my finger on it either. But these Lakes are pretty special.

Contribute to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes here.

And be sure to sign our #SaveTheGreatLakes petition here

 

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A perfect ride to visit GLRI success stories in Muskegon, MI

Muskegon, a town in Michigan at the southernmost tip of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, is home to celebrated museums, pristine recreational beaches, a top-notch performing arts camp, an amusement park — and two Great Lakes Restoration Initiative success stories.

 
Our ride into Muskegon was relatively flat and absolutely perfect weather – mid-70s and sunny. We stopped for an afternoon snack and stretch break on the shores of Lake Muskegon. A recreational and ecological staple of the area, the lake forms a harbor along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and drains out of the Muskegon River.

 

Decades of industrial discharge into its waters and wetland destruction along its shores brought Lake Muskegon to a critical point, and in 1985 it was listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Great Lakes “Area of Concern.”

 
An “AOC” is a geographic location in the Great Lakes watershed where environmental degradation has occurred as the result of human activities. In the past two decades many projects have been implemented to delist Lake Muskegon as an AOC, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has played a critical part in making Muskegon’s waterways healthier places for wildlife to live and visitors to enjoy.

 
Half a mile upstream from the lake, a GLRI project is aiming to do just that by restoring ecologically rich wetlands along the banks of the Lower Muskegon River. For years these areas were unnaturally separated from the river by dikes and pumps so the resulting land fragments could be used for celery farming. These harmful alterations broke up aquatic and terrestrial habitats, contributed to the degradation of the Lake, and hurt fishing possibilities along the river.

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I happen to walk past this GLRI sign while eating a heaping cone of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream

 
Engineers and conservationists are hard at work, clearing away human-made fill and reconnecting the Muskegon river with its floodplain and Muskegon Lake. The removal of these man-made structures, which are filled with concrete, soil, tree stumps, and sediment, is one of the last steps in the process to delist Muskegon Lake as an AOC.

 
This isn’t the first time the GLRI has helped clean up Lake Muskegon. In 2012 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Muskegon city and county partners completed a $12 million effort to remove 43,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the bottom of the Lake. Decades of industry discharge through a storm sewer pumped mercury and petroleum products into the Lake, contaminating fish (which affected how much people were allowed to catch and eat) and causing a host of other environmental problems.

 
The removal project created jobs for barge and dredge operators, truck drivers, biologists, chemists, and toxicologists. It helped bolster the fishing industry on Muskegon Lake and decreased serious public health concerns relating to contaminated fish and water. Investing in the GLRI, in our waterways, and in the Great Lakes as a whole, works.

 
Without the GLRI, 53 acres of Muskegon wetland will remain disconnected and thousands of fish and wildlife will be isolated from vital habitat networks. Moreover, failure to fund and complete the current cleanup project would continue to hurt the vibrant Muskegon recreation industry, which contributes $1.3 million to the local economy every year.

 
The GLRI has a proven track record of success in Muskegon, and in shoreside communities all around the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, President Trump has proposed to completely eliminate this program. This is an issue that transcends politics and partisanship — folks from all sides of the aisle enjoy and deserve clean water and beautiful natural spaces. We call on our Great Lakes members of Congress from both parties to join us in standing up for the GLRI this budget season.

 
We care about our health, our economy, our environment. We care about our Great Lakes. And we aren’t backing down.

 
You can show your support by contributing to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes at http://www.teamsierra.org/illinois/kady, and signing the pledge at http://www.addup.org/campaigns/save-the-great-lakes-from-the-trump-administration

 

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Why I’m Riding My Bike Around Lake Michigan

By: Kady McFadden, Deputy Chapter Director

Growing up in Illinois, summers always meant family trips outdoors in Wisconsin and Michigan. I spent many 4th of July weekends camping at Peninsula State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Every summer even through college, I went on a father-daughter canoe trip in Wisconsin with a number of my friends and their dads. Lake Michigan is what makes Chicago summers so incredible – I trained for my first marathon along morning sunrises on the lakeshore path. Carved by glaciers 14,000 years ago, the Great Lakes ecosystem is our Yellowstone of the midwest. It is the most important natural asset of our region, and it’s where I learned how to swim, paddle, pitch a tent, and make a campfire.

The Great Lakes are not only the gem of our region, but the area is home to a $5 trillion regional economy and 20% of the world’s freshwater. Protecting the Great Lakes has long been a bipartisan priority. Since 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) has contributed $300M annually to support economic development driven by environmental restoration. The GLRI is a proven critical and successful effort to support cleanup projects, habitat restoration, invasive species control, and nutrient runoff reduction in the Great Lakes and surrounding states.

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Me and my dad camping in WI, circa 1995

President Trump has decided to abandon this track record of success in protecting our region. Despite the fact that over 40 million people get their drinking water from these lakes, his proposed 2018 budget eliminates the GLRI. Additionally, the President is calling for a 31% overall reduction in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The effects of eliminating this program are twofold: jobs will be lost and the Lakes will suffer. The environmental effects of cutting the GLRI would be diverse and wide-reaching, allowing toxic algae blooms in sources of drinking water, leaving our waterways vulnerable to invasive species like Asian carp, and creating irreversible habitat fragmentation on beaches and parks. On the economic front, cutting the GLRI would eliminate the possibility of $50 billion long-term economic benefits the program is slated to bring the Great Lakes region as a whole, and put folks out of work in the short-term.

Starting today, I’ll be riding my bike around Lake Michigan and visiting some sites of successful GLRI projects along the way. I’ll be completely human powered, with all supplies and gear strapped to my bicycle. I hope you’ll follow along, and join Sierra Club’s efforts to fight to protect the Great Lakes.

Like many of you, I was deeply shaken by the results of the 2016 election. As a young woman with a deep belief in democracy and our individual and collective ability to make a difference in the world, I was rocked by the direction our country might be headed. Before November 8th, I planned to spend the next four years fighting for continued progress making our planet and communities even more safe and vibrant. Rather, I find that I spend many days fighting battles that I thought we already won: that everyone deserves clean water, that women deserve respect and should make choices for themselves, and that no American is illegal.

In these times, we must encircle and protect the things we value most. We have no choice but to fight to defend against threats to our undocumented brothers and sisters, to working families ability to earn a living wage, to and to our most basic right to safe drinking water and a healthy planet.

Protecting our environment and communities is not a partisan value. That’s why I am hopeful that our Great Lakes Republican members of Congress will stand up for the GLRI and against budget cuts to EPA. I hopeful that they can follow the lead of my hometown state Representative Steve Andersson (R), who on Friday worked so hard to reach across the aisle to help pass a budget for our state. Wearing a purple tie for bipartisanship, he said “we are going to save our state, and we’re going to save our state together.”

We are going to save our Great Lakes. And we’re going to save our Great Lakes together. I hope you’ll join us.

Contribute to our campaign to #SaveTheGreatLakes: teamsierra.org/illinois/kady

Sign the petition here: Save The Great Lakes

 

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