Central Michigan University researchers will continue to lead efforts to protect and restore coastal wetlands vital to the overall health of the Great Lakes, thanks to a second $10 million grant announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
CMU was selected in 2010 to lead an initial $10 million initiative. This enabled the nation's first collection of scientific data assessing the health of coastal wetlands spanning more than 10,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, more than the west and east coasts of the United States combined. The second grant, announced today, will fund identification, monitoring and extended evaluation of restoration efforts during the next five years.
Read news release from the Environmental Protection Agency
"These wetlands are very important to the overall health of the Great Lakes, which much of our economy — including our fisheries and tourism — relies on," said Donald Uzarski, CMU professor of biology and director of CMU's Institute for Great Lakes Research and the Biological Station on Beaver Island. "Anyone living or doing business near the Great Lakes watershed will benefit from these efforts."
Healthy coastal wetlands filter pollution from entering the Great Lakes and the connected rivers, lakes and streams. They provide crucial habitat for fish and wildlife, support a $7.5 billion per year commercial and sport fishery, and, in some areas, provide crucial flood control.
Development, however, has eliminated 50 percent of Great Lakes wetlands, which Uzarski said makes restoration efforts ever more critical.
"Congratulations to Central Michigan University on being awarded this grant," U.S. Rep. John R. Moolenaar said. "The Great Lakes are vital to our state and the $7 billion economy they support. This GLRI research will play a valuable role in protecting them for future generations."
Over the past five years, Uzarski and his team have sampled, monitored and documented conditions in more than 1,000 wetlands. Their work documents water chemistry, vegetation, invertebrates, fish, amphibians and birds.
The EPA is using this data to evaluate proposed restoration efforts, having committed to Congress that it will restore 60,000 acres of wetlands over the next five years.
"With the support of this grant, our coastal wetland monitoring program provides a powerful tool, informing decision-makers on coastal wetland conservation and restoration priorities throughout the Great Lakes basin," Uzarski said. "We also will evaluate restoration efforts after they're complete, so that we know whether they're working. Such monitoring wasn't done in the past, and now we're having to redo unsuccessful and expensive restoration efforts of previous decades."
"Michigan is home to over 3,100 miles of Great Lakes shoreline," said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow. "This investment will help Central Michigan University researchers study coastal wetlands across the Great Lakes basin to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitats for years to come. Today's announcement further underscores the importance of partnerships like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which invests in the health of our Great Lakes and waterways."
Uzarski said informed wetland restoration will have positive impact throughout the Great Lakes Watershed in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and two provinces in Canada. This includes improving the water supply quality for Michigan cities such as Grand Rapids and Detroit and supporting the sport and commercial fishery industry.
"Grand Rapids residents get their water directly from Lake Michigan," Uzarski said. "Healthy wetlands maintain high water quality, so without them, they'd have a major problem."
Another important impact is job creation — the first grant alone led to 156 new jobs, including lab employees.
Uzarski said CMU oversees the $20 million in grants and the resulting collaboration with 10 universities, one state agency, one Canadian federal agency and one U.S. federal agency in addition to the EPA.
The grant is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of an effort supported by President Barack Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Uzarski said bipartisan support of the grant has been essential at both the state and federal levels.
Impact across the Great Lakes Basin
Central Michigan University, Great Lakes expert Don Uzarski, another 23 faculty members and about 80 student researchers a year working through the
CMU Institute for Great Lakes Research are recognized for:
E-DNA detection of invasive species;
Great Lakes reef restoration;
Publication of more than 55 Great Lakes research articles the past five years;
Watershed research in Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake; and
Preparing the next generation of researchers and leaders, with many CMU alumni now working in Michigan's Department of Environment Quality and Department of Natural Resources.
Construction is well underway on CMU's
$95 million Biosciences Building, where nearly 1,000 students majoring in the biosciences will have the opportunity to do research in a state-of-the-art facility starting in January 2017.
The university also is in the process of hiring two faculty members to focus on environmental economics and environmental policy.