I don’t know which is worse: the discovery of a live Asian carp beyond the electric fence that is supposed to stop them, or the dismissive and obstructionist reaction to that discovery from the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s the negative impression I got after listening to an emergency briefing held yesterday afternoon by the agencies responsible for protecting the Great Lakes from the monster carp: the Corps, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. EPA, and the Illinois DNR.
Of course it’s bad news that a 20-pound, 34-inch bighead carp was captured in Lake Calumet, 6 miles from Lake Michigan and beyond the electric fence and the O’Brien Lock. There is no remaining physical barrier between where the fish was found and the Great Lakes. And because the fish was found in larger body of water (Lake Calumet) so close to Lake Michigan, chemical treatment may be unwise or impossible. That leaves increased electrofishing and netting to try to find more invasive carp and suppress whatever populations are present.
The good news is that most of the agencies on the call said that they plan to implement the electrofishing and netting measures and expressed a new urgency in making sure they were doing all in their power to stop the Asian carp from advancing. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US EPA, the Illinois DNR…. they all announced new measures to combat the carp, and each of them pledged to ramp up their efforts. But not the Corps.
The Corps spokesperson, Mike White, made it sound as if the Corps would just like to wash its hands of the whole problem. On the call and in the press release, he said the Corps’ primary responsibility was:
“to continue to operate the locks and dams in the Chicago Area Waterway System for Congressionally authorized purposes of navigation, water diversion, and flood control. We will continue to support fish suppression activities by modifying existing structures such as locks as requested by other agencies to support this common goal…”
Protect the Great Lakes? Forget about it. Apparently the Corps does not think that protecting the Great Lakes is part of its mission.
When asked if the Corps would post on its website the results, including the date and location, of the additional DNA sampling we assumed the Corps would be conducting, Mr. White said the Corps is in discussions with the institutions who have done sampling in the past (Notre Dame) about whether Corps will continue doing DNA sampling at all. So, will the DNA sampling resume? The Corps doesn’t know, but it certainly hopes those discussions come to resolution sometime soon. Well, that’s a relief, right?
Later, in a call with the press, Mr. White was asked if the discovery of a live carp beyond the electric fence, 6 miles from Lake Michigan, made a response to the problem more urgent. His response was that the Corps would consider its statutory authorities and determine a course of action. In other words, the Corps is going to think about it and get back to us.
Will the Corps act forcefully and with urgency? Forget about it – not to protect the Great Lakes.
What’s terrifying is that the Corps is the agency that is supposed to decide on whether a permanent separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River is feasible. Given the performance we saw yesterday, why bother? Their answer is predetermined (since Great Lakes protection apparently isn’t part of the Corps’s mission), and given the low urgency that agency is assigning to this issue, it could be decades before it finishes the study, anyway.
We’re supporting a bill to force the Corps to do a real feasibility study on hydrological separation, and to do it rapidly. Thanks to the leadership of the Great Lakes senators, particularly Senators Durbin, Stabenow, Levin and Voinovich, this bill might move, and move quickly. It will be a big help with the Corps’ mission.
But what about the Corps’ culture? I think we need to change the agency’s incentives. How about this: if Asian carp colonize the Great Lakes, then the costs to the ecosystem and the economies that depend on it get deducted from the Corps’ annual budget. Or even better: deduct those costs from the paychecks of their staff.
That might light the fire under them the Great Lakes need.