Other View: On a blue ribbon panel on Great Lakes invasive species
The Great Lakes are under siege. Invasive species, water diversions and pollution all pose serious threats to the health of the largest freshwater system on the planet. Another of those threats is a virus that already has been blamed for the deat...
The Great Lakes are under siege. Invasive species, water diversions and pollution all pose serious threats to the health of the largest freshwater system on the planet. Another of those threats is a virus that already has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of fish in the eastern Great Lakes and that could spread to the rest of the lakes unless serious action is taken.
So far, the response has been less than inspiring. The federal government took a sledgehammer approach; Michigan took a solitary approach; some experts are calling for more study before anything is done, an approach that could mean too little will be done too late.
We agree with the experts on this: More study is needed. But it is needed now. Peter Annin, author of "The Great Lakes Water Wars," suggested last week that a blue ribbon commission be impaneled to focus on the virus and what needs to be done to stop its spread.
We concur. The panel should be bipartisan and broadly cast, with representatives from government, environmental groups and the fishing and shipping industries. It should be given a deadline to issue a report within months, not years. Then the Great Lakes states, the federal government and Canada must act in concert on the report. And one issue the commission has to look at is whether the economic benefits of keeping the St. Lawrence Seaway open to oceangoing freighters is worth the cost. Closing the seaway may be heresy, but it may be the best solution.
The issues are complex and broad. This virus could devastate Great Lakes fisheries, causing untold damage to a major industry and to the ecosystem of the lakes. Taking the steps necessary to combat the virus could devastate the lakes' shipping industry if ships from infected areas are barred from entering uninfected lakes.
The shipping question so far has been limited to what harm ocean going vessels have done to the lakes by bringing in invasive species, including perhaps the virus. But the virus also raises the issue of what harm ships limited to the lakes can do by moving from one lake to another. The issue could pit "salties" against "lakers" and the shipping industry against the fishing industry.
The initial federal response went too far by blocking the live export of 37 fish species from any of the Great Lakes states. That emergency order has since been softened.
What's needed is a concerted response that is better targeted at this problem. A commission given the charge of finding such a response in a timely manner strikes us as the best available option.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel