NWF's Great Lakes Natural Resources Center: Protecting the World's Vast Freshwater Seas

National Wildlife, October-November 1994 | Go to article overview

NWF's Great Lakes Natural Resources Center: Protecting the World's Vast Freshwater Seas


The five Great Lakes are the world' greatest freshwater resource, accounting for more than 20 percent of the surface freshwater on Earth. Twelve years ago, to help protect these vast inland seas from toxic chemical pollution, water diversions, wetlands loss and other threats, the National Wildlife Federation opened a resource center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

At the time, the center began operating with only a director and a part-time secretary. The resource center has since become NWF's largest, with a full-time staff of thirteen. Director Mark Van Putten also serves as the Federation's eastern division staff director, supervising field operations in 21 eastern and midwestern states.

During its 12-year history, the Great Lakes center has concentrated much of its effort on protecting the Great Lakes from toxic chemical pollution, which poses a grave threat to the region's ecosystems. Over the years, toxic substances have entered the lakes from a variety of sources, accumulating in fish and working their way up the food chain. Scientists have discovered reproductive failures and deformed offspring among cormorants, eagles and other fish-eating species And today, public health officials in the region warn anglers to limit consumption of the fish they catch. Women especially should limit fish consumption, as it could pose risks to children they may bear in the future.

"The dumping of toxic substances, though reduced, continues today, despite the federal Clean Water Act and a treaty between the United States and Canada," says Van Putten.

Through its Great Lakes Water Quality Project, led by Tim Eder, the center waged a five-year campaign to persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the eight Great Lakes states to take more decisive action on toxics. As a result of litigation and lobbying by NWF, federal and state authorities last year proposed the Great Lakes initiative to replace a hodgepodge of regulations with uniform water-quality standards for the entire region.

The center's Great Lakes Water Quality Project staff is now finding ways to reduce toxic air pollution and runoff from farm fields and city streets. Tim Eder is assisted in these efforts by Research Manager Wayne Schmidt, Attorney Cameron Davis and Pollution Prevention Specialist Guy Williams.

For the past four years, the center has also focused special attention on the largest of the Great Lakes through its Lake Superior Project. Originally dedicated to implementing promise by the United States and Canada to make the lake a zero-discharge zone" for toxic pollutants, the project has expanded its mission to include protection of the region's forests. …

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