MARQUETTE - Though they have been a serious issue for decades, invasive species are finally getting the attention they deserve, according to former longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
During an interview Thursday with The Mining Journal, Daley said he believes invasive species, in general, have been a threat to the Great Lakes for many decades. He said for years the burden fell on cities and the issue received little attention.
"It landed up on our shores and we had to clean the alewives and the zebra mussels and no one said anything," he said.
This June 2012 file photo shows Travis Schepker, a biology intern, holding an Asian carp pulled from the Illinois River near Havana, Ill. (AP photo)
Asian Carp were introduced in the south decades ago, and Daley said he is surprised that people just recently became concerned with the threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Though people often point at Illinois as a likely entryway for Asian Carp into the Great Lakes, Daley, who served as Chicago's mayor from 1989 to 2011, said the issue is much broader.
"They're up the Missouri, up the Mississippi, up the Ohio - any river, any tributaries going in and out. And they're bottom fish, so they've been there for 40, 50 years. It has nothing to do with Chicago. It has nothing to do with Illinois," he said. "It's not going to go away, and it's not Chicago's problem, because our river flows not into (the Great Lakes), we flow out. The rest of them flow in, so you've got real problems."
Invasive species are just one of the broad issues being addressed by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a nonprofit coalition that Daley, 71, helped create 10 years ago. He was in Marquette Thursday for the organization's 10th annual conference.
The event was hosted by the Superior Watershed Partnership, in conjunction with the city, the Marquette Downtown Development Authority and the city arts and culture department.
The GLSLCI is a nonprofit coalition that works to advance protection and restoration efforts related to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, while attempting to address long-term economic concerns.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who served as chair of the body for the last year, said the GLSLCI has pulled cities across eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces together, allowing cities large and small to voice their opinion in a big way.
"Marquette's voice is as loud as Chicago's or Detroit's or Toronto, anybody," he said. "Being part of the organization is huge."
Prior to the creation of the GLSLCI, he said cities often had trouble influencing Great Lakes policy decisions.
"This organization has been able to get places where cities couldn't get before," Barrett said. "Chicago could have gotten to those places, but even cities the size of Milwaukee wouldn't have. This has amplified the voice for all the cities, in both the United States and Canada."
GLSLCI Executive Director David Ullrich, who previously spent three decades working in the federal government, agreed.
"I'll be very honest," he said. "We really didn't listen much to cities."
However, he said that mindset has changed.
"Sixteen million people and 103 cities. You can't lock us out," Ullrich said.
And the region should have a strong voice, according to Daley, as it is home to numerous top universities, abundant natural resources, and enormous amounts of fresh water, which can be used for a number of things including manufacturing and mining.
"It's a vast economic engine, and I don't think people realized that," Daley said.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.