USA. Conservation groups fight in court to uphold law to stop invasive species

Wednesday, 11 April 2007


As shipping interests seek to strike down the region's first law to protect boaters, anglers, swimmers and families from invasive species, three prominent conservation organizations have announced they were joining the court battle to slam the door on invasive species entering the Great Lakes.

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs, National Wildlife Federation, and Alliance for the Great Lakes (formerly the Lake Michigan Federation) today filed to intervene in Detroit federal district court to defend a Michigan law intended to protect the Great Lakes from discharges of invasive species by oceangoing ships.

Interests for the oceangoing ships sued the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan Attorney General on March 15 to derail the law.

"We're filing this motion to stand up for the millions of anglers, hunters, boaters, campers and families in Michigan and elsewhere who rely on the Great Lakes for their jobs, recreational opportunities, and quality of life," said Donna Stine, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs. "The shipping industry's lawsuit is an attack on the right of Michigan's citizens to protect themselves from invasive species. That is unconscionable, and we won't stand for it."

The No. 1 pathway for non-native aquatic species to enter the Great Lakes is through ballast discharge from ocean-going vessels originating in foreign ports. Since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, one new aquatic non-native species has been discovered in the Great Lakes every 28 weeks. Since 1970, 77 percent of the invasions -- 36 of 47 -- are attributable to transoceanic shipping activities

"What's wrong with this picture?" asked Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office. "The shipping industry brings zebra mussels and dozens of other harmful organisms into the Great Lakes and spreads a deadly fish virus through the lakes. Now it's suing us -- Michigan citizens -- to stop us from defending our rivers and lakes and the Great Lakes themselves. Well, we're fighting back, and that's why we've gone to court."

Invasive species such as the zebra mussel, discharged into the Great Lakes via ocean going vessels, have caused enormous ecological and economic damage. They out compete native species such as lake perch, whitefish, and others for food and habitat. Recent federal research suspects a connection between zebra mussels and algae, which can have toxic effects on human health.

Invasive species cost the Great Lakes region $5 billion annually in damage and control costs, according to the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy released in December 2005.

"Citizens from around the region are paying billions of dollars annually," said Cameron Davis, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which is being represented by Christopher Tracy of the law firm Howard & Howard in Kalamazoo, in the litigation. "It's time for ocean going ships to start paying for their own damage to the region. The average person shouldn't pay for the shippers' failure to innovate to fix this problem that they've known about for decades."

Comprehensive federal legislation to stop the introduction of invasive species has languished in the U.S. Congress, leading the state of Michigan to pass in 2005 a law requiring ocean going vessels to obtain a permit to discharge ballast water.

"The threat of invasive species will not go away on its own," said MUCC's Stine. "The state of Michigan understands this and needs to be commended -- not punished -- for taking action."


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 April 2007 )