What are the barriers to protecting Michigan’s inland lakes?

Report identifies lack of local leadership as one barrier to lake management.

Given the number and quality of inland lakes in Michigan and the limited resources of state agencies, it’s important that local communities become involved in the management of their lakes. Unfortunately, few lake communities are organized to protect their lake from sediment and nutrient pollution and the problems these pollutants create. These inland lake stressors include overgrowths of aquatic plants, algae blooms, decreasing water depths, loss of habitat and reduced water clarity, among others.

What barriers limit community involvement in lake and watershed management? Two written surveys were mailed to lake communities and yielded the following insights:

  • Most communities lack organization, resources and networks.
  • Even organized communities have limited resources despite their lake’s economic value.
  • Many communities need help to understand lake data and management planning.
  • Some lake communities are confused about when management is needed.
  • Lack of local leadership.

In addition, four focus groups were held with lake communities actively involved in lake and watershed management. They sought to identify motivational forces and strategies used to commit local residents and resources to lake and watershed management and yielded these additional insights.

  • Lake management is as much a social issue as an environmental one.
  • Management activities are often reactive – triggered by a major event or issue. For example, the discovery of an aquatic invasive species.
  • Local leaders are very important for community engagement in lake management.
  • Local funding is more important in management projects than state or federal grants.
  • Partnerships are important.
  • Promoting citizen involvement is important.
  • Successful projects increase the community’s willingness to initiate additional efforts.

An unpublished report on the above efforts made the following conclusions:

  • Of the identified barriers to lake management, a lack of leaders with a vision for management and available funding may be the most significant.
  • Lake communities most engaged in protective lake and watershed management identified local leaders as the most significant factor facilitating their efforts.
  • Successful communities used partnerships to increase communication, reduce conflict, promote win-win conditions and extend limited resources.
  • State agencies could improve lake management in Michigan by promoting local lake social/political associations, expanding leadership training, developing lake management educational opportunities and supporting management partnerships.

Michigan State University Extension serves as a partner on the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership (MILP) was formed to help promote effective lake management. The Partnership is made up of several state and local governmental agencies, environmental organizations, riparian organizations, industry representatives and Native American nations. MILP is working on many of the issues and recommendations identified in the above report. Learn more about MILP and its efforts to promote protective lake management.

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