Slow Progress on Asian Carp

Asian carp news didn’t take a break over the holidays.

The last month has seen an important marshaling of forces against the march of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes. Consider:

• The leading experts in eDNA testing published a paper in a peer-reviewed journal that should finally put to rest any doubt that Asian carp are (or have been) where the eDNA says they are. The paper should add a little starch to the backbone of the Army Corps of Engineers when it comes to them taking action quickly to stop any further invasions by the carp. It should also enable all the federal and state agencies to stand up to the carp-deniers in the Chicago shipping industry.

• Michigan’s new Attorney General Bill Schuette is pursuing an appeal in federal court to force the Army Corps of Engineers to take rapid action on a permanent barrier in the Chicago canals to stop the carp.  Stay tuned as the Seventh Circuit hears the case.

• Frustrated by the slow pace of the Army Corps of Engineers, two independent bodies are doing their own in-depth feasibility study of how and where to erect a permanent barrier to separate Lake Michigan from Asian-carp infested rivers in the Mississippi River Basin. The Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Cities Initiative will complete the $2 million study by January, 2012. One of the primary purposes of the report is to jumpstart the Corps’ own feasibility study, which the Corps claims will take over five years. That time frame is simply unacceptable. By that time the Great Lakes may be the Great Carp Ponds. The Corps needs to use the completed GLC/GLSLC study to finish its work much faster.

• In October, a group of prestigious scientists from the U.S. and Canada began a rigorous risk assessment to describe the likely impacts that Asian carp will have on the Great Lakes. The risk assessment will hopefully explode the other myths being propagated by some among the Chicago shippers that (a) Asian carp will not travel through the Chicago canals in numbers great enough to achieve breeding populations; and (b) even if they did, the carp would not thrive in the Great Lakes or their tributaries. Although both of these claims are demonstrably false, some continue to make them. I expect that the risk assessment, once completed, will bury them once and for all.

• Leaving the Chicago canals for a moment, citizens all over the region are attending public meetings and calling for the Corps to close the other pathways that Asian carp might take to the lakes. The Corps last month released a preliminary draft of its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS). The draft (called “Other Pathways Preliminary Risk Characterization”) identified 18 potential pathways (outside the Chicago area) where the risk of the carp reaching the lakes is “acute,” “high,” or “medium.”

The draft study identified another 13 potential pathways where the risk is described as low. The report identified three particularly worrisome areas:

“One location was singled out as the greatest concern, the Eagle Marsh site in Fort Wayne, IN. Interim and long-term risk reduction measures were deemed necessary to mitigate potentially imminent risk of Asian carp reaching Lake Erie through the aquatic pathway that develops at this location during a significant storm event.

“The Long Lake connection to the Ohio and Erie Canal in Summit County, OH south of Akron, OH, and the Libby Branch of the Swan River large wetlands complex in Itasca and Aitkin County, MN are also identified as High Risk locations for ANS interbasin transfer.”

The report recommends additional study prior to taking action for all the sites except Eagle Marsh. That’s the site where the headwaters of the Maumee River, the largest tributary to Lake Erie, pass within a mile of tributaries to the Wabash River, which already is carp-infested. Concern about flooding that could connect the two streams via Eagle Marsh prompted the Indiana DNR to erect an emergency fence through the marsh.

The Corps is now in the midst of gathering public testimony as part of the NEPA review of the GLMRIS “Other Pathways” study at meetings in 12 cities (today in Traverse City, next week in Cincinnati, and March 8th for meeting in Ann Arbor that was rescheduled due to weather). And wherever the Corps is, so is NWF. Our very own Jeff Alexander has been blogging from the hearings; check out Jeff’s posts.

This is good stuff, but we have lots more marshaling to do. We need to keep the pressure on the Corps to get the study done faster and then to start work on the ground toward a permanent barrier. To speed the Corps’ study we should demand that it use the Great Lakes Commission/Cities Initiative report that will be published in 12 months. Reinventing the wheel is rarely a good idea, and here it would be particularly harmful.

The public meetings are a great way to make our voices heard. Let’s get out there and tell the Corps to get moving.

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