The afternoon panel discussion was held to focus on the coupling of research and management for habitat rehabilitation and conservation for the Detroit River and its watershed. The panel discussion was initiated with an introductory talk for which an abstract is presented below.
John E. Gannon, U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center
Stan Moberly, Past President of the American Fisheries Society, stated that "The greatest threat to fisheries resource security is...loss of habitat and, therefore, loss of our ability to produce fish...Habitat is the primary asset that produces the benefits we all seek; losing it seals the fate of our fisheries and bankrupts the fishery aspirations of future generations." These concerns formed the basis for the American Fisheries Society (1994) "Vision for North American Fisheries in the 21st Century". The Society's long-term goal is to restore 50% of lost or damaged habitats in North America. It is estimated that restoration of depleted fish populations and habitat productivity would produce 500,000 jobs and pump more than $3 billion (U.S.) into the economy. Even more jobs and economic benefits are involved when considering the restoration of wetland and terrestrial habitats.
Various programs exist in different agencies and institutions for protection of terrestrial, wetland, and aquatic habitat. These programs are terribly disjunct and would benefit from partnerships and improved communications between Federal, State, provincial, First Nations, local governments, and private stakeholders, such as land trust organizations. Nonetheless, there is much more effort currently being devoted to protection of relatively pristine and critical habitat than towards restoration of degraded habitat. Moreover, there is much more progress in terrestrial and wetlands habitat protection than in aquatic habitat protection.
Restoration means returning habitat to the healthy condition that existed prior to degradation. The field of restoration ecology is only a few decades old, evolving from research on restoration of native prairie vegetation. This movement has spread to other terrestrial habitats, wetlands, and most recently aquatic habitats (Natural Research Council 1992). Restoration ecology is so new that there are few theories and principles developed. Many current restoration-related studies involve inventory of existing habitat, identification of degrading problems, selection and implementation of remediation methods, and follow-up evaluation to determine if remedial goals were met. Other studies require identification and removal of degrading forces, with subsequent evaluation of the ability of habitat to self-organize and heal itself. In others, purposeful habitat manipulations are designed, implemented, and evaluated. The latter studies encompass the new field of ecological engineering (Mitsch and Jorgensen 1989), whereby principles of ecology and engineering are being applied to habitat restoration.
The Great Lakes research community has held several workshops in recent years to develop research needs and priorities for aquatic habitat restoration and coastal zone ecology. Historically, the Great Lakes coastal zone has largely been ignored because: 1) of an emphasis on offshore water quality and offshore fisheries; 2) the coastal zone is so dynamic and difficult to sample quantitatively; and 3) a restoration ethic and reliable protocols appreciably have not been developed. These workshops have shown clearly that habitat research is not receiving sufficient attention and usually falls into the very wide crack between traditional water quality research and fisheries research. Furthermore, it is readily apparent that aquatic habitat restoration has focused mostly on pollution cleanup and management of soft sediments; whereas, there are great benefits to be gained in restoring hard-bottom substrates (e.g., rocky shoals, submerged bedrock outcrops, habitat associated with breakwaters and jetties, etc.) that support high biodiversity and spawning and nursery habitat functions (Gannon 1993).
From an institutional perspective, the Great Lakes research community receives much of its direction and prioritization from participating in the activities of the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). Again, habitat issues usually fall into the very wide crack between traditional water quality and fishery institutions. IJC biennial meetings have focused mostly on toxic contaminants, while GLFC annual meetings largely concentrate on exotic species, particularly sea lamprey control. Yet, there is recent evidence that habitat is becoming the issue of common dialogue between the IJC and GLFC. For example, the impairment of beneficial uses in the IJC Areas of Concern includes fish and wildlife habitat loss and degradation. The GLFC recently has recognized the importance of habitat protection and restoration to the successful restoration of fish species. Significantly, it was concluded at the State of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC '94) "...that habitat loss, exotic species and toxic substances should be given equal attention in working to restore the integrity of the basin's ecosystem" (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1995).
Not limited to specific Areas of Concern, is a parallel initiative in waterfront redevelopment. Much of the heavy industry on Great Lakes shorelines has shut down or downsized during the past two decades, leaving shoreline locations (known as "brownfields") available for new uses. Improvements in environmental quality in the Great Lakes has spurred interest in waterfront redevelopment for marinas, restaurants, and other water-oriented facilities. An important challenge is to "piggyback" on these terrestrially oriented projects and extend waterfront restoration into adjacent wetlands and aquatic habitats.
Meanwhile, fishery managers have been developing long-term fish community goals in the Great Lakes through the GLFC Lake Committees. The GLFC's Habitat Advisory Board is assisting the fishery managers by identifying habitat issues that may prevent fish community goals from being met. Curiously, it has been difficult for fishery managers to agree upon fish community goals for stocks of common concern in offshore waters. In contrast, there has been a melding of fishery and environmental goals in the bays, harbors, and connecting channels through the RAP process in Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Fish community goals and requirements for habitat protection and restoration have been developed in considerable detail for most of the Areas of Concern. These plans often have broad agency and community support and provide guidance on habitat research and evaluation needs.
In most environmental issues, it is difficult to demonstrate immediate economic benefits, but this is not so with the habitat issue. There is much interest in habitat protection and restoration in the coastal zone because of the economic benefits anticipated from waterfront redevelopment, elimination of beneficial use impairments, and restoration of fish communities. Coastal zone areas are very important economically because they are most accessible to the greatest number of potential users, and this is where resource use conflicts are greatest. They are also the places where protection and restoration will have the greatest beneficial economic impact.
Following the introductory talk, panelists entered into an interactive discussion with the audience. Panelists included:
David Barton (University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON);
John Gannon (U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, Ann Arbor, MI (Moderator));
Orin Gelderloos (University of Michigan-Dearborn, Dearborn, MI);
Tony Hough (Wayne State University, Detroit, MI); and
Michael Jones (Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI).
Panelists made the following points:
In general, it was recognized that the relative, management importance of habitat, compared to persistent toxic substances and exotic species, is increasing. Also, there is the three-dimensional aspect to habitat protection (e.g., the quality of the overlying water in aquatic habitats must not be ignored). Participants called for greater research and management attention be placed on the nearshore environment and edge habitats. Most efforts are currently being targeted at soft sediments and much more work is needed on hard sediments.
From a management perspective, it was recognized that soft engineering approaches need to be applied much more frequently and extensively. Even though it was noted that we have entered a new era of ecological engineering and restoration ecology, habitat continues to fall through the management cracks. Education will be a critical component.
There was agreement that there is a need to integrate management, research, and public participation/education. The adaptive management approach (i.e., assess, set priorities, and take action in an iterative fashion) was identified as the most appropriate, effective, and pragmatic course of action. However, this approach requires patience. For the adaptive management approach to succeed, research and monitoring must become more important to support science-based, decision-making and to validate management actions. Some habitat protection measures, such as land acquisition, can proceed without extensive research. Priorities identified by participants included: