TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
July 7, 1998
Statement by: Dr. Michael J. Donahue, Executive Director
Great Lakes Commission
Presented by: Thomas Crane, Program Manger
Resource Management and Environmental Quality
Great Lakes Commission

SUMMARY OF COMMENTS: The Great Lakes Commission, on behalf of its eight member states, endorses S. 659, reauthorization of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. The Act provides a much-needed vehicle for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide technical, coordination, research, funding and related support to the collective Great Lakes fishery management effort. The Act builds upon existing agreements and institutional arrangements, provides for a federal/state/tribal partnership, is action- oriented, and offers a mechanism for implementing recommendations of the Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study. The Great Lakes Commission therefore urges the Congress to support the legislation.

Introduction

On behalf of the eight member states of the Great Lakes Commission, I am pleased to speak in support of S. 659, reauthorization of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. Passage and implementation of the original Act provided the Great Lake states - and the entire Great Lakes governance infrastructure- with a framework for the cooperative conservation, restoration and management of fish and wildlife resources. Reauthorization of the Act will ensure that present progress is maintained and new initiatives are pursued, including implementation of Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study recommendations.

The Great Lakes Commission embraces the notion of resource management by interjurisdictional cooperation and intergovernmental partnership. These philosophies are embodied in the Act and, consequently, prompted the eight member states of the Great Lakes Commission to unanimously endorse S. 659 by formal resolution on April 3, 1998.

We in the Great Lakes Basin maintain a tradition of multi-jurisdictional cooperation that dates back to the early years of the 20th century. We recognize that the environmental and economic significance of this Basin and its resources transcends our own political boundaries and spans this nation, North America and the entire globe. These resources, which include the largest system of fresh surface water on earth, have a national and global significance that demands the interest and support of citizens and members of Congress from coast to coast. The Great Lakes system is the world's largest freshwater laboratory; it is a bellwether of scientific investigation. It is also the world's largest freshwater laboratory for institutional experimentation. What we learn here - from both our successes and failures - can form the basis of knowledge for future actions and management efforts elsewhere.

We in the Great Lakes Basin have also long recognized the benefits of a hydrologic, or watershed- based approach to resource management and environmental protection. Transcending the artificiality of political boundaries to manage resources and human behaviors on a watershed basis is a fundamental requirement of an ecosystem approach to Great Lakes management, or to management in any other region of North America and beyond.

In my testimony today, I will briefly describe the purpose and programs of the Great Lakes Commission, the ecologic and economic significance of the Great Lakes fishery, and the past and projected benefits of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. I wil argue that intergovernmental partnership and, particularly federal/state partnership, is perhaps the single most important element of resource management efforts in the Great Lakes Basin. I will conclude with several specific comments on the legislation.

The Great Lakes Commission

While each of you are undoubtedly acquainted with the purpose and programs of the Great Lakes Commission, I do wish to begin my testimony with a brief background statement to provide a context for the items that follow.

The Great Lakes Commission is an interstate compact agency with a legislative mandate to represent the collective views of the eight Great Lakes states before the Congress and the federal government. The Commission was established in 1955 under state statutes and granted Congressional consent in 1968 via P.L. 90-419, The Great Lakes Basin Compact. The Compact directs the Commission to "promote the orderly, integrated, and comprehensive development, use and conservation of the water resources of the Great Lakes basin."

The Commission is comprised of governors' appointees, state officials and legislators from its member states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin). It is supported in part through annual state dues, and stands ready to assist and represent its membership on issues and opportunities of shared interest. The Great Lakes Commission also maintains a strong and active Observer program, which provides for (non-voting) participation by U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, provincial governments, tribal authorities, regional organizations and selected other public entities.

We at the Great Lakes Commission share a resource management philosophy that influences every aspect of our work. To summarize, we recognize that:

-- Regional economic development and environmental goals are not mutually exclusive. They are inseparable and must be pursued in concert to achieve the region's full potential.

-- The eight Great Lakes states, acting collectively through the Great Lakes Commission, have a principal stewardship responsibility for the precious and irreplaceable resources of the Great Lakes region.

-- Management of the Great Lakes is of both national and regional interest; it is neither the exclusive responsibility of the states nor the federal government. Rather, a federal/state partnership must be sustained and nurtured.

-- The Great Lakes, despite their vastness and resilience, are a finite and fragile resource. Maintaining their integrity is a sound and necessary investment in the region's economy and environment, as well as the health, welfare and quality of life of its citizens.

The Commission pursues its mandate via three functions: information sharing among its member states, coordination of state positions on regional issues, and advocacy of those positions on which the states agree. A wide range of environmental, resource management, transportation and economic development issues is addressed. In so doing, the Commission works closely with governors and state legislators; members of the Great Lakes Congressional Delegation; municipal, state, provincial and federal agencies; interstate organizations; private sector firms and associations; universities; colleges and individual citizens.

The Great Lakes Commission's role in addressing issues of resource management is found in the provisions of the Great Lakes Basin Compact. Article VI empowers the Commission to "Consider means of improving and maintaining the fisheries of the Basin or any portion thereof." Article VII further calls upon the Commission to initiate "cooperative action to eradicate destruction and parasitical forces endangering the fisheries, wildlife and other water resources." In carrying out its responsibilities, the Great Lakes Commission is explicitly charged with the responsibility of recommending "uniform or other laws, ordinances and regulations." It is under this authority that the Great Lakes Commission endorses S. 659, reauthorization of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act.

The Great Lakes Fishery and its Management Framework

The Great Lakes boast a world-class fishery of fundamental importance to the ecological health and economic well being of the Basin and its residents. The fishery, valued at more than $4.0 billion annually in direct and indirect benefits, supports almost 80,000 jobs. On the Great Lakes proper, 3.77 million anglers devote 46.4 million angler days to the sport annually. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data (1985) also indicate that Great Lakes trip expenditures annually include $265 million for food, $65 million for lodging, $202 million for transportation, $143 million for equipment purchases, and almost $27 million for licenses, stamps and permits. Four of the Great Lakes states are among the top ten states nationally in resident fishing license sales. Statistics for Ontario are equally impressive: in 1985 almost 2.2 million adults were active anglers, accounting for 34.4 million fishing days.

The history of the Great Lakes fishery is a study in sound science, innovative management and inter- jurisdictional cooperation characterized by federal/state/tribal partnership and U.S./Canada collaboration. The collaborative management framework if defined and shaped by two landmark agreements that transcend the parochialism of individual jurisdictions in favor of a Basinwide, ecosystem-based management approach. Signed by the governments of the U.S. and Canada in 1955, the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries and its implementing body, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission are directed at achieving an improved and sustainable future for the fishery by establishing and coordinating a research program, and by implementing a joint program for sea lamprey control.

Complementing the Convention is the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries, signed in 1981 (and most recently revised in 1997) by state, tribal, provincial and federal agencies with Great Lakes fishery management authority. The Joint Strategic Plan enables signatories to coordinate activities and collaborate on joint programs and assessment efforts. Noted success in sea lamprey control, a revitalized sport fishery and other restoration efforts speak to the value of the Joint Strategic Plan.

Effective implementation of the Joint Strategic Plan demands a strong legislative framework at the state, provincial and federal levels. Since 1990, the U.S. federal Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act has played a critically important role in collaborative management. Among others, it has vested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the authority and resources to provide technical assistance to partners; establish regional offices to promote coordination, information dissemination and public awareness; and undertake a Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study yielding recommendations for the future of the fishery. Reauthorization of the Act will ensure that past investments in the fishery are safeguarded and new initiatives are undertaken to build upon those investments.

Comments on S. 659: A Bill to Reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act.

On behalf of its eight member states, the Great Lakes Commission is pleased to endorse S. 659, reauthorization of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. Endorsement was provided by unanimous action on April 3, 1998, when the Commission membership adopted its Legislative and Appropriations Priorities for the Second Session of the 105th Congress.

Great Lakes Commission support for S. 659 is based upon the following four observations:

-- Management Philosophy Embodied in the Act: The Act both reflects and furthers evolving resource management philosophies that have been embraced by the Great Lakes Commission. The Act emphasizes management by ecosystem as opposed to geo-political boundaries. It features interjurisdictional partnerships among federal, state and tribal governments. It builds on existing authorities (e.g., Joint Strategic Plan) and existing institutional mechanisms (e.g., Council of Lake Committees, Great Lakes Fishery Commission) as opposed to creating new bureaucracy. It provides the states and tribal authorities, via the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Proposal Review Committee, with recommendatory authority over allocation of grant monies. And, it positions the federal government to provide services that are well-suited to inter-governmental partnership: technical assistance, coordination, research and financial support.

-- Accomplishments of the Original Act: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a valued Observer agency within the Great Lakes Commission family. In this role, the Service is fully involved in all Commission deliberations and actions with the exception of voting an authority that is limited to state members by provision in the Great Lakes Basin Compact. A strong U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Great Lakes Commission partnership has evolved on the strength of the original Act. Fishery Resource Offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and New York have provided the Great Lakes Commission with a first point of contact on fisheries issues that affect the states individually and collectively. And, beyond a number of resource-related accomplishments, the Act provided for the Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study and its 32 recommendations that warrant serious consideration and action.

-- Prospective Benefits of Study Implementation: The Great Lakes Commission concurs with the recommendations of the Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study, and views reauthorization and adequate funding of the Act as key to their implementation. Viewed collectively, the 32 recommendations are focused on five areas that are highly consistent with the management philosophy and associated extant policies of the Commission. These include: 1) coordinating and harmonizing programs across disciplines and Basin jurisdictions; 2) building upon and supporting existing programs and institutional arrangements; 3) strengthening the Basin's decision-support system by promoting research, monitoring, assessment, evaluation, database enhancement and associated functions; 4) calling for the development, funding and implementation of action plans and various new initiatives; and 5) promoting public information and education.

-- Support from the Great Lakes Community: The Great Lakes Commission recognizes that the reauthorization bill is supported within the Great Lakes community and addresses a number of state concerns with the original legislation. A Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Great Lakes states, Great Lakes Fishery Commission and several tribal authorities has helped ensure effective implementation of the Act.

From a broader, Basin-wide perspective, we note that the bill is consistent with principles of the Ecosystem Charter for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin. The Charter, a non-binding "good faith" agreement coordinated by the Great Lakes Commission, presents principles, findings and strategic actions to guide the "ecosystem approach" to Great Lakes management. Approximately 170 agencies and organizations representing government, the private sector, academic and citizen interests have endorsed the Charter to date. Principle V of the Charter states the following: "An ecosystem approach to management that involves rehabilitating and protecting ecological processes and resources of the Basin Ecosystem shall be fully and widely adopted, based on the understanding that human activities, natural resources and ecological processes are interdependent and parts of a unified whole." A reauthorized Act will ensure continued progress in addressing this principle.

With regard to specific provisions in S. 659, the Great Lakes Commission endorses the legislative language as presented. In particular, we applaud Section 6 language that establishes a state/tribal review committee (under the auspices of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's Council of Lake Committees) that will review and offer recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on fish and wildlife restoration proposals based on the results of the study. Further, the Great Lakes Commission concurs with changes in the reauthorization language that provide for enhanced focus on project implementation, and for a reduction in the annual authorization from $10 million to $5 million, with $3.5 million of the latter to be made available to state and tribal partners. We emphasize, however, that appropriation of the authorized amount will be essential if the goals of the Act are to be fully realized.

The Great Lakes Commission emphasizes that reauthorizing the Act rather than solely relying on existing U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorities is necessary to maintain and enhance progress under the original Act. Reauthorization will ensure that 1) recommendations from the Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study will be implemented; 2) the existing network of regional offices will be maintained; 3) restoration proposals and resultant projects will be properly targeted; 4) existing institutional arrangements will be used to the extent possible; and 5) authorization levels will be set and targeted with an emphasis on project implementation.

Conclusion

The Great Lakes Commission, on behalf of its eight member states, endorses S. 659, reauthorization of the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act. The Act provides a much-needed vehicle for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide technical, coordination, research, funding and related support to the collective Great Lakes fishery management effort. The Act builds upon existing agreements and institutional arrangements, provides for a federal/state/tribal partnership, is action- oriented, and offers a mechanism for implementing recommendations of the Great Lakes Fishery Resources Restoration Study. The Great Lakes Commission therefore urges the Congress to support the legislation.