Bipartisan lawmakers, hunters, fishermen ask for $30M for wetlands

Study finds millions of dollars are lost each year to algal blooms which could be mediated by investment in wetlands
Posted at 11:47 AM, Nov 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 17:55:46-04

ROCKWOOD, Mich. (WXYZ) — A diverse group of Michiganders is asking the state to invest in preservation and expansion of wetlands. The group, made up of concerned citizens and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, say the destruction of wetlands is affecting business and the quality of life in the state.

“I want clean water to drink. I want clean water to play in. I’m a hunter, I’m an angler. I want to take my kids fishing,” explained father of two, Patrick Hogan.

Hogan lives just 7 miles from Lake Erie in Temperance, Michigan. He said he would love to use the lake, but every year, especially in the summer, the algal blooms keep him and his family away.

“We go camping every May, watch the bird migration. And then after that, we really don’t visit the lake,” Hogan said.

It’s an issue both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are hoping to change.

Democrat Representative John Cherry of Flint explained what they would like for wetlands.

“What we’re really wanting to do is start out is put 30 million dollars into wetland restoration to kind of kickstart things up,” said Cherry.

Wetlands do many things, acting like kidneys, filtering out fertilizers and organic compounds before they even get to the Great Lakes. They function like a sponge, reducing or even preventing flooding.

“If we invest in protecting our natural resources in the state of Michigan, what ends up happening is those resources end up protecting us,” said Cherry.

Republican Representative Joe Bellino of Monroe is also throwing his support behind the cause.

“I live here in Monroe County and I’ve seen how the wetlands have deteriorated. I’ve seen what’s happened to Lake Erie in my lifetime,” explained Bellino.

He too has seen what has happened recently.

“Now we have the algal blooms. And that threatens our drinking water, threatens our recreation, threatens our whole way of life here,” said Bellino.

Paul Doute is a United States Coast Guard certified Great Lakes charter captain who has been fishing the waters of Lake Erie for years. He told me he first started to see the algal blooms about 12 years ago.

“Customers question me whether the fish we are handling are safe to eat. Are they safe to handle?” explained Doute.

He said fishing in such waters is just plain difficult. So he goes further out and this affects his business.

“A lot of times I’ve been taking my customers to Ohio. Which means they have to spend money on a license. I have to spend money on a guide license in Ohio. And then you have the cost of gas,” Doute explained.

At $6 a gallon for recreational fuel, it adds up fast.

Amy Trotter, the executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, explained why now is the time to secure $30 million from the state for wetlands.

“The American Rescue Plan offers an opportunity unlike any we’ve ever seen before in terms of funding,” explained Trotter.

She said many have come together to make it happen.

“Hunters, anglers, conservationists and even wildlife watchers are all in support of this proposal which makes it really exciting and a unique time to be able to push this forward,” Trotter said.

The MUCC commissioned Michigan State University to study the impact.

“This study found that harmful algal blooms actually dissuade fishermen from fishing.”

She said it has a real impact on the local economy.

“That means dollars to the local community. And what we learned through the study conducted by Michigan State University, and supported through private donations and the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, was that there’s an estimate loss of economic activity to the tune of 5.9 million dollars a year in the 2019 study period which can be attributed to those fishing trips. Almost 21,000 cancelled fishing trips are estimated in our study. And that accounts for almost a third of fishing trips on Lake Erie,” said Trotter.