Tag: John Hartig

Traverse City Participates in a Binational Exercise to Re-energize the Ecosystem Approach

Illustration: Mariah Alexander

By John Hartig, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor

Last month, 13 people representing diverse backgrounds met in a Traverse City workshop to brainstorm on how to make better use of something called “an ecosystem approach” in Great Lakes protection and restoration.

Part of an effort spanning the entire Great Lakes watershed, the workshop enabled participants to offer specific ideas on how the approach might relate to their efforts. But what is an ecosystem approach?

An ecosystem approach is a technique used to strengthen the linkages among science, policy and management for achieving and sustaining healthy ecosystems. It considers the well-being of all components of an ecosystem like the Great Lakes, including humans, rather than addressing problems and solutions as separate, isolated concerns.

Although this approach has a long history in the Great Lakes basin, there is growing interest in re-energizing it.

The Great Lakes community celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the U.S. Clean Water Act in 2022. This landmark agreement and law, as well as many Great Lakes programs, are grounded in ecosystem-based management.

Over the past 50 years, we have witnessed many successes like reducing municipal and industrial point source pollution, slowing the introductions of invasive species, and delisting several Great Lakes pollution hotspots (known as Areas of Concern). However, many challenges remain, like addressing polluted runoff from farms and city streets and climate change.

There have been once-unimaginable advancements in science and technology that allow us to collect data on more variables, analyze much more data, create more sophisticated models, and more accurately forecast changes in these complex ecosystems. There have been fundamental changes in how people get their information and whom they trust to receive it from, coupled with seemingly increased sociopolitical polarization.

There has been an increased interest in understanding the social, cultural, and economic value of the Great Lakes and how their health is intimately tied to the lives and livelihoods of the people that live and visit here. There is more awareness that Great Lakes coasts also represent one most poignant examples of inequity in terms of access to and benefits from the Great Lakes, the ecosystem services they provide, and the environmental and conservation efforts taken to protect and restore them.

An ecosystem approach also considers all stakeholders together, rather than a handful of traditional constituencies. The goal of convening them is to identify measurable ecosystem goals, co-produce knowledge, co-innovate solutions, and practice adaptive management – assess, set priorities, and take action in an iterative fashion for continuous improvement – to achieve ecosystem goals.

Last year, the Healthy Headwaters Lab of the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and many partners convened an international conference on “The Ecosystem Approach in the 21st Century: Guiding Science and Management” at the University of Windsor. Working groups produced recommendations on how boundary organizations, actors, and teams can better support and accelerate more strategic, holistic, and partnership-driven efforts, and each prepared a paper that will be published in a special issue of the journal Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management.

The next step in this project includes sharing information from the international ecosystem approach conference and getting stakeholder feedback on ways and means of advancing the ecosystem approach from 15 public forums or workshops throughout the Great Lakes Basin. On October 19, Michigan Sea Grant and FLOW convened one of these workshops in Traverse City. Traverse City was chosen because of its longstanding efforts to protect Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan Sea Grant’s support of the ecosystem approach, and FLOW’s leadership in systems thinking – another form of an ecosystem approach.

There was broad agreement among the 13 workshop participants that the ecosystem approach is important and relevant. Examples of Traverse City stakeholder input received include:

  • Priority should be placed on ecosystem approach education, including K-12 and post-secondary;
  • Ecosystem approach legislation should be considered at the state, provincial, and federal government levels;
  • Priority should be placed on getting local ecosystems in the hearts and minds of local people through storytelling, slogans (e.g., “Your Bay, Your Say” from Traverse City’s Waterfront Plan), art, and creating a sense of responsibility (e.g., First Nations believe that water and all life are sacred, show reverence toward the water, plants, animals and ecosystems, and have a stewardship ethic);
  • Greater emphasis needs to be placed on breaking down the “silo mentality” (i.e., unwillingness to share information or knowledge between or across different departments or organizations) and improve communication and foster cooperative learning;
  • Communities should develop and share broadly ecosystem approach success stories; and
  • The region should increase emphasis on proactive ecosystem approaches that anticipate and prevent problems, rather than responding to environmental crises.

       At the completion of this project in the spring of 2024, a summary report will be released that includes all findings and recommendations for broad distribution throughout the Great Lakes Basin. To learn more about this ecosystem approach project, visit https://www.healthyheadwaterslab.ca/projects/ecosystem-approach. If you have further questions, please contact our ecosystem approach team at ecosystemapproach@uwindsor.ca.


Dr. John Hartig is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Wiindsor. For 14 years he served as Refuge Manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. John also serves on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.

Great Lakes Champions

In a time of seemingly overwhelming environmental challenges, it is important to remember that many unheralded individuals are working successfully to protect the Great Lakes. John Hartig profiles some of them in his new book, Great Lakes Champions. FLOW asked Hartig about the book’s message, the people he profiles, and the overall health of the Great Lakes.

FLOW: Tell us a little about your new book, Great Lake Champions.

John Hartig: Great Lakes Champions is the story of 14 people who love the Great Lakes, stepped up to become leaders of restoration efforts, and inspired others to follow. They have had to

John Hartig is the author of Great Lakes Champions.

persevere over decades and not give up in the face of adversity. They’re well respected and trusted in their communities and are not in it for acclaim or commendation. They simply and profoundly love the Great Lakes, show reverence for them, and work tirelessly to pass them on as a gift to future generations. Their stories are compelling and provide proof that individuals can indeed change the ecosystems where they live. I hope their stories will inspire a new generation of Great Lakes champions.

FLOW: Where did the idea for this book come from?

John Hartig: In my more than 40-year career, I have had the honor and privilege of working with and becoming friends with many people who had devoted their careers to these watershed cleanup efforts. They so inspired me that I decided to write a book about them.

FLOW: What are examples of champions that you profile in the book?

John Hartig: Champions come from all walks of life but share a love of the Great Lakes and a desire to make a difference in the watershed they call home. Here are just a few, which include a:

  • Husband-and-wife team who helped orchestrate a more than $1.6 billion cleanup of one of the most polluted bays on the Great Lakes.
  • Local environmentalist working for a nongovernmental organization who brought stakeholders together to realize $50 million of contaminated sediment remediation and more than $22 million of habitat rehabilitation.
  • Provincial public servant who brought all stakeholders together to clean up their Area of Concern, which was the first to be removed from the international hotspot list—and worked through a nongovernmental organization to help the local town to rebrand itself as a town committed to excellence in pursuit of sustainability.
  • Drain commissioner who helped bring together 48 communities in his watershed to become the first U.S. watershed to have all communities with national stormwater permits.
  • Head of an environmental justice organization who championed a local mercury-pollution prevention campaign that became a national model and who spearheaded a climate change action plan.
  • Member of the Waterkeeper Alliance who led their organization to become the first nonprofit to fulfill the role of non-federal sponsor of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative projects, which would serve as a model for the rest of the Great Lakes.
  • Local land use planner who brought together federal, provincial, and local stakeholders to restore fish and wildlife habitats and help create an EcoPark system; and
  • First Nation council member who fought for the cleanup of industrial processes and lands and to get others to view their waters and lands as sacred, requiring a stewardship ethic.

FLOW: What is your characterization overall of the Great Lakes? Are they improving, staying the same, or deteriorating?

John Hartig: It’s often said that Areas of Concern are microcosms of the Great Lakes. Since 1985, nine Areas of Concern have been taken off the list of international pollution hotspots. As of 2021, 102 of 255 impaired beneficial uses have been eliminated in U.S. Areas of Concern, and 68 of the 121 impaired beneficial uses have been eliminated in Canadian Areas of Concern. Although this has been a slow process, it does show progress.

Cleanup and restoration of the Areas of Concern are essential to restoring the health of the Great Lakes. However, there are lakewide issues that must be addressed to meet the long-term goal of restoring the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes. For example, climate change is the most pressing ecosystem challenge of the 21st century and is considered a “threat multiplier” where warmer, wetter, and wilder climatic conditions amplify other threats like harmful algal blooms, combined sewer overflow events, species changes, poor air quality effects on vulnerable residents, and more. Other lakewide issues include food web changes resulting from the introduction of exotic species and continued health advisories on fish.

About the author: John Hartig serves as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. For 14 years he served as Refuge Manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Hartig has received numerous awards for his work, including a 2022 Michigan Notable Leader in Sustainability award from Crain’s’s Detroit Business and the 2015 Conservationist of the Year Award from the John Muir Association. He has authored or co-authored over 100 publications on the environment, including seven books.

FLOW’s Jim Olson and Dave Dempsey Honored by IAGLR for Great Lakes Protection Efforts

Photo: FLOW’s Jim Olson (left) and Dave Dempsey.

Note: This is a FLOW media release issued June 21, 2022. Members of the media can reach FLOW’s:

  • Jim Olson, Founder & Senior Legal Advisor at Jim@FLOWforWater.org.
  • Dave Dempsey, Senior Policy Advisor, Dave@FLOWforWater.org.
  • Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, at Liz@FLOWforWater.org or cell (570) 872-4956 or office (231) 944-1568.

Traverse City, Mich.— FLOW’s Founder and Senior Legal Advisor Jim Olson and Senior Policy Advisor Dave Dempsey on June 15, 2022, were awarded prestigious honors for their career-long efforts to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and the environment and to educate and build support among the public and decision makers.

The awards were bestowed during an online ceremony by the International Association for Great Lakes Research (IAGLR).

IAGLR is a scientific organization made up of researchers studying the Laurentian Great Lakes, other large lakes of the world, and their watersheds, as well as those with an interest in that research. The new award recognizes and honors individuals whose work has made significant contributions to sharing the social, economic, and ecological understanding of the large lakes of the world. The complete list of those honored at the IAGLR Awards Ceremony is here.

Jim Olson, FLOW’s founder and senior legal advisor, received one of the inaugural Large Lake Champion Awards for his “tireless efforts in protecting the environment in and around the Laurentian Great Lakes region, including his founding of the organization For Love of Water (FLOW).” 

​In announcing the award, IAGLR Awards Committee Co-Chair Neil Rooney expressed “appreciation for Jim’s extraordinary knowledge of environmental, water, and public interest law, and how he has used his skill set to advocate for the protection of these unique and essential ecosystems.” The complete list of Large Lake Champions is here.

Olson received the news with the same humility he has brought to his decades of work protecting the public waters of the Great Lakes—at the surface, in the ground, and from the tap.

“This caught me by complete surprise,” Jim Olson said. “So many dedicated people around our Great Lakes are deserving of this honor. I receive it in recognition of the many clients, organizations, people I’ve worked with over the years, especially the inspiring staff, Board, and supporters of For Love of Water. This is as much theirs as it is mine.”

“Thank  you, IAGLR, for this award,” Olson said. “Over the years, it has been those scientists within our Great Lakes region who have spent their lives in search of the truth of the mysteries and graces of our natural world—ultimately, the measure of how well or not we humans inhabit it—who have made a difference.”

IAGLR honored Dave Dempsey, FLOW’s senior policy advisor, with its John R. (Jack) Vallentyne Award, which recognizes “significant efforts to inform and educate the public and policymakers on large lakes issues to raise awareness and support for their protection and restoration.” The award is named for long-time IAGLR member and environmental scientist and educator, John R. (Jack) Vallentyne.

“Dave Dempsey is an unmatched Great Lakes resource,” wrote Lana Pollack, former US Section Chair of the International Joint Commission, in her letter nominating Dempsey for the award. “Deeply curious and wholly identified with the Great Lakes, he has devoted his life to understanding and helping others understand the Basin. An innately generous person, for decades Dave has stepped up to inform and assist colleagues, resource managers, legislators, reporters, educators, environmental advocates, business and labor interests, and of course countless students—all of them seeking well-founded information on a myriad of resource management and environmental policy issues.”

“He is not only a talented and well-respected policy advisor, but a gifted author and storyteller,” notes John Hartig, Visiting Scholar at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor, in his nomination letter. “His writing is a unique blend of his 30-year career shaping Great Lakes policy and his passion for inspiring a stewardship ethic for our inland seas.”

In receiving the award, Dave Dempsey said, “I’m very humbled by this award for two reasons. First that it comes from IAGLR, which I have great respect for. And I’m also humbled because to have my name associated with Jack Vallentyne in any way is a remarkable thing.” 

Dempsey recalled speaking with Vallentyne when doing research. “He impressed me not only as one of the fathers of the ecosystem approach to Great Lakes management, but he also was a very effective educator of young people. I think that’s what we all need to be.”

FLOW Executive Director Elizabeth Kirkwood called Olson’s Large Lake Champion Award “a richly deserved recognition of a career spent defending the Great Lakes and educating thousands of people across the continent on the importance of these precious fresh waters and the rights of the public to protect these waters under a legal principle known as the public trust doctrine. Everyone at FLOW is proud to be associated with Jim.”

“Dave Dempsey’s encyclopedic knowledge, clarity of conscience of what is good and right, reasoned voice, and gifted ability to speak and write in sparring, well-chosen words about the environmental history of, and policies related to, the Great Lakes are remarkable,” said Kirkwood. “It is the reason why lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, citizens, resource managers, business leaders, journalists, and lawyers have sought Dave’s advice for over three decades.” 

“Dave’s contributions to the protection of the Great Lakes are abundantly clear, and I can think of no other more deserving of such an honor as the Vallentyne Award than Dave Dempsey,” Kirkwood said.