The Great Lakes watershed is the largest system of fresh surface water in the world and is a source of abundant natural resources. However, urban and industrial development along the shoreline has degraded water quality, posing threats to wildlife and human health. Restoration of Great Lakes ecosystems is now a priority among federal, state, and local stakeholders, and the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy has become the region’s leading guide for protecting and restoring ecological functions throughout the Great Lakes.
In support of this effort, the Great Lakes Commission identified a section of the Buffalo River watershed in New York and a subwatershed of the St. Joseph River drainage basin in Indiana as strategic candidates for habitat restoration. The Habitat Priority Planner tool (HPP) and accompanying data were used to help decision makers determine how best to restore habitat in these watersheds. Because the Buffalo River watershed is situated in an urban environment, the project team focused on habitat preservation and abatement of nonpoint sources of pollution; the team used HPP to evaluate existing habitat for potential wetlands restoration and examine developed areas for sites that could be converted to green space and habitat. The area of the St. Joseph River watershed is largely agricultural and consists of sites that could be converted back to wetland habitat.
Using the Habitat Priority Planner’s interactive analysis process, the Great Lakes Commission identified thousands of acres of restorable habitat in the two watersheds. The commission is using this information to prioritize habitat restoration projects that can meet the goals identified in the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.