Conservation of Biological Diversity in the Great Lakes Basin
Ecosystem: Issues and Opportunities
Working Locally for Strategic Value-An Illustration of Project
Biodiversity conservation projects at the local level can have
strategic value for the basin if they collectively 1) protect key
biodiversity elements of the Great Lakes ecosystem, 2) address threats
of basinwide significance, and 3) succeed in a variety of
cultural/social settings within the basin.
In the following table, these criteria have been used to assess in
an illustrative fashion the strategic value of six landscape-scale
areas within the basin which might support local conservation
projects. The areas have been selected for illustration only, although
they currently support varying levels of conservation activity.
This analysis illustrates that each area has certain fundamental
All have high biodiversity value, i.e., they support biodiversity
elements of high global significance whose conservation depends on
their health within the Great Lakes basin.
All represent large, landscape-scale areas with high quality
natural communities and relatively intact ecological functions. This
is important for long-term ecological sustainability, a pre-requisite
for economic sustainability.
The systems addressed by this suite of areas are principally those
shown by heritage data to support the greatest amount of biodiversity
unique to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Five of the six focus on coastal
marsh, coastal shore, and/or lakeplain systems. Systems such as inland
terrestrial, inland wetlands, tributaries, and the open lake are
included in the conservation designs for these areas where they
deliver "good and services" essential to the health of the
biodiversity elements within the target systems. For instance,
protection of coastal marsh features at Long Point requires control of
erosion from its watershed, which was once forested and is now highly
agricultural. Strategies for marsh protection therefore may include
working in the watershed to implement best management practices on
agricultural lands and establish a reforestation program.
Among the areas illustrated, the only one which directly targets a
tributary system does so in a stream with high inherent biodiversity
value--numerous species of globally imperiled mollusks and fish. Even
in this case, considerable effort must be directed to the watershed,
where agricultural practices result in erosion that damages the
aquatic system through siltation.
Projects will achieve the greatest strategic benefit for
biodiversity conservation by targeting systems and areas of the
highest biodiversity significance, and, through good ecological
design, working to protect key ecological processes which sustain that
These areas also illustrate how problem-solving can be concentrated
on those threats which our analysis indicates have the greatest impact
on the basin's special biodiversity. Successful work in several of
these areas would yield sustainable solutions to problems posed by
development, water level management, and agriculture--the three
highest priority threats. Medium-priority threats posed by recreation,
exotics, and resources management must also be addressed in several of
These threats would be addressed in a variety of social/cultural
settings, enhancing the range and applicability of solutions that
would be developed. For instance, of the three landscape areas
focusing on the biodiversity of lakeplain systems, Saginaw Bay lies
within a combination rural/agricultural and urban/industrial area, the
St. Clair Delta spans the international border and includes a major
Indian Reserve, and the Northern Lake Huron area lies in a rural
northern setting and also potentially spans the U.S.-Canadian border.
Developing successful conservation projects for biodiversity of
lakeplain systems in such areas will yield different approaches that
will have broader applicability across the basin than a single project
attempting to model lakeplain protection.
Regional institutions can use this process to make deliberate
decisions about where to encourage and invest in local conservation
initiatives for strategic benefit to the larger Great Lakes ecosystem.
The Nature Conservancy is continuing to conduct this kind of analysis
with data from the Heritage Programs in the basin.
Considerations for Project Targeting-An
Illustration (see Table 6)
Areas Supporting Biodiversity Map (see Figure 8)
Figure 8. (To view larger
image, click on map)