National Forests & the Great Lakes Provide Abundant Clean water

In April, the Forest Service highlights how managing healthy forests helps provide clean water. A watershed protection forest provides services like filtering air and water, reducing floods and erosion, sustaining stream flows and aquatic species, and ensuring watershed stability and resilience, absorbing rain and refilling ground water aquifers.

In the northeast and Midwest, water is a big deal. The Great Lakes are an environmental and economic treasure for the Nation. Comprised of more than 10,000 miles of coastline and 30,000 islands, they are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth. The region is home to more than 30 million Americans and its waters support 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion wages each year. As the source of 95 percent of our nation’s fresh surface water, the health of the Great Lakes is essential to the health of the American people. For these reasons and more, protecting and preserving the Great Lakes is a critical responsibility.

There are six national forests within the Great Lakes basin, the Chequamegon-Nicolet (Wisconsin), Ottawa, Hiawatha and Huron-Manistee (Michigan), Superior (Minnesota) and Finger lakes (New York). There is a strong connection between the health of national forests within the Great Lakes basin and the health of the Great Lakes. Many rivers that run through these national forests are tributaries to the Great Lakes, and the cleanest water flows from healthy forested watersheds.

Our efforts to manage our Great Lakes national forests to contribute to the overall health of the Great Lakes were elevated thanks to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). GLRI is an all lands approach to improving and protecting watershed health.

Since 2010, $60 million in GLRI funds have been distributed through Forest Service administered grants, though we’ve probably leveraged 2-3 times that amount from partners. Forest Service GLRI projects serve to reduce invasive plant impacts and help restore impaired watersheds and water quality. Restoring native ecosystems and plants help slow down and filter water before it enters the lakes, reducing run-off. Accomplishments include:

  • Replacing 90 barriers to aquatic species passage
  • Reopened 468 miles of stream to fish passage
  • Restoring 4,500 acers of stream and lake habitat
  • Inhibited spread of aquatic invasive species through boat washing stations

And, that’s just the National Forest System side! Forest Service work to improve the health and stability of the Great Lakes goes beyond the national forests in the basin. The Agency’s Research & Development branch is a repository for and generator of science-based information and virtually every aspect of forestry. And, the Agency’s State & Private Forestry branch provides technical support and financial assistance to all forest land managers. Excellent forest management along with effective accountability tools, monitoring and assessment are vital for GLRI to be successful in helping to restore the Great Lakes.

GLRI is an opportunity to achieve resilient, sustainable forests in the Great Lakes, which in turn helps the Great Lakes become more resilient and sustainable for present and future generations.