WMU News

Environmental advocates focus on Lake Michigan

March 8, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Regional land use planners, conservation officials, and other environmental agency staff persons committed to safeguarding the Great Lakes will gather March 12-14 at Western Michigan University to talk about issues and challenges confronting Lake Michigan.

"Each day, Lake Michigan experiences greater demand both on its water supply, and its ability to absorb the byproducts of urban, industrial and agricultural development," says Ronald Thomas, executive director of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, one of the partners in the three-day Lake Michigan Watershed Academy.

The Academy, which is closed to the public, is the first meeting of its kind and is aimed at decision makers who help determine policy related to Lake Michigan. The event, which is expected to draw public officials and nonprofit representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and the federal government, is being hosted by the WMU-based Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Molecular Sciences, a collaboration between WMU and Altarum, a Michigan-based nonprofit research institute. The center, launched October 2002 with a $2.6 million federal grant, draws on the talents of WMU scientists and researchers from Altarum to understand, evaluate and more precisely measure the impact of problems facing the Great Lakes environment.

Elizabeth McCance, an expert in ecosystems management, is the keynote speaker for the three-day meeting. McCance is the director of conservation programs for Chicago Wilderness, an alliance of 136 organizations committed to protecting the remaining natural lands of the Chicago area.

Participants are expected to take on several tough issues related to the stewardship of Lake Michigan, says Barb Wygant of WMU's Environmental Institute. The region's Lake Michigan Lakewide Management Plan, factors affecting the health of the lake's ecosystem and matters of science, public policy and funding are among the many issues that will be discussed. Workshop participants also will learn more about available tools and resources for managing the Lake Michigan watershed, and why local decision-making and land use are essential to healthy watersheds.

Lake Michigan, the world's sixth-largest source of freshwater, is the focus of several national, regional and local watershed studies examining everything from the lake's role in human health and shoreline access to matters of industrial development and wetlands preservation. The four states that surround Lake Michigan are home to nearly 33 million people, about a third of whom depend on it for drinking water.

The Watershed Academy is being organized by WMU's Great Lakes Center and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, with additional assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other partners in the Lakewide Management Plan.

To discuss the academy meeting, contact Barbara Wygant at (269) 387-5870 or <barbara.wygant@wmich.edu>. Additional information about Lake Michigan management issues and the goals set for reducing lake pollution can be found at <www.epa.gov/grtlakes/lakemich>.

Media contact: Gail Towns, 269 387-8400, gail.towns@wmich.edu

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