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.

 

FullSizeRender 10.jpg

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.

IMG_1013.JPG

 

 

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

 

IMG_0960.JPG

Advertisements

VICTORY! Illinois has a budget, and it includes Solar For All Funds

The unprecedented lack of a state budget caused serious harm across Illinois, and especially in disadvantaged communities.  We’re thrilled that the State of Illinois has a budget at long last, and we can begin to repair that harm and provide real opportunities for people who need it most in the clean energy economy through the Illinois Solar For All program.

It almost didn’t happen that way. Last week, Governor Rauner proposed a budget that could have eliminated all of the funding for Illinois Solar For All, and Sierra Club sprang into action. More than 1,800 Sierra Club members and supporters reached out to their legislators in Springfield before and during the 4th of July holiday, and it had an impact. Legislators rejected Rauner’s proposal, and approved a new proposal that did not sweep any funds away from Illinois Solar For All.

Sierra Club joined this effort in support of environmental justice partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, especially the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Faith in Place, who envisioned the Illinois Solar For All program and are now working to create the new statewide training programs that will begin later this year.  Sierra Club volunteers lobbied their state legislators all spring to prepare for this showdown, including in-district visits to lawmakers’ offices and many calls; and, nearly 50 making the trip to Springfield for a lobby day in April to protect the funds.

The new Illinois Solar For All program is a key component of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA). The program will train and employ residents of low income communities, citizens returning from the criminal justice system, and foster care graduates in the clean energy industry that is soon to take off in Illinois thanks to the FEJA.  

With everything Trump is doing to make America dependent on fossil fuels again, it is essential that Illinois chart a course for 100% clean energy future that includes everyone.  The Illinois Solar For All program is part of a great start, and thanks to your action and the great work of our partners in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, we are on course for a brighter future.

 

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.

IMG_0627

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

 

IMG_0629

 

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.

IMG_8541

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

 

IMG_0926

Illinois House Passes Resolution Urging Governor Rauner to sign Illinois onto U.S. Climate Alliance

Springfield, June 26 – This morning the Illinois House passed HR490, urging Governor Rauner to have Illinois join 12 states, Puerto Rico, and over 300 cities in supporting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and signing onto the U.S. Climate Alliance. The resolution also urges the state to develop a plan of how Illinois can achieve 100% clean, renewable energy by 2045, a goal that dozens of cities and the state of California are working towards. The Resolution passed 54-29.

 

In response, Jack Darin, Director of Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, released the following statement:

“Governor Rauner, it is time for Illinois to join the US Climate Alliance, and chart our own course to a clean energy future. President Trump is stepping back from the global move to clean energy, but Illinois does not have to follow him.  It’s time to commit to fighting the climate change that threatens Illinois, and plan for the bold long term goal of a 100% clean energy future.

“Illinois is already on track to meet the Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets, as the clean energy boom on the way under the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) is projected to reduce carbon emissions at least equal to those agreed to in the Paris accord. A transition to 100% clean energy will not happen overnight, but the transition has already begun, and setting that as a long term goal for Illinois will guide job training, economic development, grid infrastructure, and other components of a clean energy future.”

Asian Carp Advance On Lake Michigan; Trump Halts Project to Stop Them, Threatens To Cut Off All Great Lakes Funds

Yesterday an invasive adult silver carp was caught within nine miles of Lake Michigan in the Calumet River. The 8-pound fish was captured in a gill net by a commercial fisherman working for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) as part of their seasonal intensive monitoring program looking for this invasive species within Chicago’s waterways. This critical work is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which President Trump has proposed to eliminate all funding for beginning October 1. More information about current carp control efforts is available here.

The Trump Administration has also halted efforts to upgrade the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, downstream of the electric barriers, to prevent the movement of Asian carp upstream. The Army Corps of Engineers was set to release the study for public review in late February when the White House blocked its release.

Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter Clean Water Program Director Cindy Skrukrud released this statement:

“The capture of a silver carp past the electric barrier and just 9 miles from Lake Michigan is a potent reminder of how the Trump Administration is failing to address the huge problem that aquatic invasive species pose to the Great Lakes. While alien invaders are headed towards Lake Michigan, Trump and his team are halting projects to keep them out and dismantling Great Lakes protection programs. It is urgent that Governor Rauner and our entire Congressional delegation call on President Trump to release the Brandon Road Lock and Dam study that his administration is holding hostage, and demand that he commit to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. If Trump is allowed by Congress to cut off all Great Lakes funding October 1, Illinois DNR will not be able to continue the critical work underway right now to catch and control these dangerous invaders.”

###

Want to take action? Here’s how you can help:

Sign the Great Lakes Protection Pledge and tell your Member of Congress to do the same

Tell your Members of Congress to support legislation to stop Asian carp

silvercarp06232017
Silver carp captured in the Illinois Waterway on June 22, 2017 below T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam.
Image courtesy of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
carp-map-PRN-2017

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam upgrade would increase protection for Lake Michigan

 

Bill Introduced Today to End White House Delays in Combatting Asian Carp Invasion

Today a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now bill, which would require the Administration to release a study the Army Corps of Engineers has done on Asian Carp control methods at Brandon Road Lock and Dam. In response, Sierra Club and our partners released the following statement.

 

Alliance for the Great Lakes  ·  National Wildlife Federation  ·  Natural Resources Defense Council  ·  Ohio Environmental Council  ·  Prairie Rivers Network  ·  Save The River  ·  Sierra Club   ·  Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

 

Media Statement
Bill Seeks to End White House Delays in Combatting Asian Carp Invasion
Groups Applaud Efforts by Members of Congress to Make Latest Research Available to the Public

Chicago, IL (June 21, 2017) – A bipartisan bill introduced today in Congress would push the Trump Administration to stop delaying a key effort to stop the Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes. Conservation groups from around the Great Lakes region expressed support for the bill. The groups stressed that the current Asian carp control measures, from electric barriers to harvesting, are not enough to keep the harmful fish out of the Great Lakes.

Two years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with studying additional protection measures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, IL. The facility is a logical choke point location to install control measures to stop the fish from moving closer to the lake. The study was paid for at taxpayer expense and is ready for public review. The draft report was supposed to be released for public review and input on February 28, 2017. But, instead of releasing it to the public, the White House blocked the report’s release, leaving it hidden away on a Washington, D.C. shelf gathering dust. And with it, efforts to install critical prevention measures to halt Asian carp have all but come to a halt, putting the Great Lakes at risk.

Today a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now bill, which would require the Administration to release the Brandon Road Study. The Stop Asian Carp Now bill was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI).  We applaud Members of Congress for pushing to make this report public and fighting to protect the Great Lakes from the serious threat posed by Asian carp. Conservation groups support the bill noting that, “the Administration has had more than three months to review the report. It is past time to give Great Lakes residents a chance to do the same.”

The seven cosponsors in the Senate so far are Senators Durbin (D-IL), Peters (D-MI), Baldwin (D-WI), Brown (D-OH), Franken (D-MN), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Duckworth (D-IL).

The 31 cosponsors in the House so far are Reps. Huizenga (MI-02), Joyce (OH-14), Slaughter (NY-25), Nolan (MN-08), Trott (MI-11), Bergman (MI-01), Moolenaar (MI-04), Walberg (MI-07), Kildee (MI-05), Upton (MI-06), Schneider (IL-10), Mike Bishop (MI-08), Dingell (MI-12), Lawrence (MI-14), Walz (MN-01), Quigley (IL-05), Tim Ryan (OH-13), Conyers (MI-13), Moore (WI-04), Gallagher (WI-08), Chris Collins (NY-27), Schakowsky (IL-09), Mitchell (MI-10), Duffy (WI-07), Pocan (WI-02), Levin (MI-09), Fudge (OH-11), Stefanik (NY-21), Latta (OH-05), Amash (MI-03) and Brian Higgins (NY-26).

###

Note to Media: Two additional resources that may be helpful in relation to this statement include:

Media Contacts:

Alliance for the Great Lakes: Jennifer Caddick, (312) 445-9760, jcaddick@greatlakes.org
National Wildlife Federation: Marc Smith, (734) 887-7116, msmith@nwf.org
Natural Resources Defense Council: Ivan Moreno, 312-651-7932, imoreno@nrdc.org
Ohio Environmental Council: David Miller, (419) 944-1986, DMiller@theoec.org
Prairie Rivers Network: Robert Hirschfeld, (217) 344-2371 x205, rhirschfeld@prairierivers.org
Save The River: Lee Willbanks, (315) 686-2010,  lee@savetheriver.org
Sierra Club: Cindy Skrukrud, (312) 251-1680 x110, cindy.skrukrud@sierraclub.org
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council: Jennifer McKay, (231) 347-1181, jenniferm@watershedcouncil.org