Blog: Lisa Wozniak & Ryan Mark-Griffin

How does the Great Lakes State become the Great Conservation State? This week Lisa Wozniak and Ryan Mark-Griffin of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters unroll an environmental health and safety blueprint for 2012.

Lisa Wozniak: How does the Great Lakes State Become a Great Conservation State?

I love Michigan because people who have never been here don't believe that it could possibly be this beautiful or that the Great Lakes could be so vast. I love Michigan because once you've been here and experienced the sugar-sand beaches and sand dunes, the forests, the rocky shores of Lake Superior and the incredible beauty of the Keewenaw Peninsula, the endless and perfect expanse of Lake Michigan while the sun is setting, you wonder why you've ever been anywhere else. And, I love Michigan because I always believed, as a kid growing up in the Mediterranean, that all seas were salty. Not this one.

We live in a GREAT state. That's why we developed Great Michigan.

Michigan is a state that the rest of the country uses as a barometer for change. We are considered a key presidential election state. We led the way into the "Great Recession" and we will lead the way out. We were also, many years ago, a lead example of protecting our water, our air and our land. Now, in 2011, it is essential that we return to that heritage given how much we have to celebrate and protect for generations to come.  There has not been a more important time to lead since the late 1960s, when our country's rivers were on fire, acid rain was threatening our forests, and phosphorus was literally killing our lakes and streams.
Michigan is truly blessed with an abundance of natural resources:
  • We are surrounded by almost 20% of the Earth's fresh surface water; it defines us as Michiganders in countless ways and provides us with a competitive advantage hugely lacking in places like Texas and Colorado, not to mention Nevada and Arizona.
  • We have the longest freshwater shoreline (3,288 miles) in the world and the largest state park and state forest system of any state in the nation = Pure Michigan.

But the sad truth is this: Although Michigan was once a leader in conservation, it placed among the bottom four states in the nation in conservation funding in a 2008 report. Without proper funding, our state's natural beauty and, frankly, citizen health, is in jeopardy.

Did you know, for example, that:
  • Beach closures have more than doubled in the past seven years due to fecal matter (that means poop) related contamination.
  • The state currently knows the location of almost 9,200 leaking underground toxic storage tanks and it cannot do anything about because – yup – they lack the funding to remediate the sites. (These tanks have the potential to poison groundwater. That's drinking water.)
  • In 2010, Michigan was home to the Midwest's largest oil spill when a ruptured oil pipeline dumped almost one million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) understands that Michigan's clean air and pure water are central to our identity as Michiganders and key to the health of our families.  We also understand that electing the right public officials and enacting the right policies are the only way to protect these cherished, yet vulnerable, resources.

Founded in 1999, we work from a non-partisan perspective using a variety of unique tools to help frame the issues, educate the electorate (and those representing us in Lansing), and hold our elected officials accountable. One of our most important educational tools is something called Great Michigan, entitled such in connection to the visceral passion and pulling-on-heart-strings-like impact of the Pure Michigan campaign.

Great Michigan represents a collaborative effort among environmental, conservation, and public health groups across Michigan to collectively identify the most pressing environmental issues facing Michigan, present these issues to policy makers and the public in understandable terms, and provide realistic solutions to address them. This website is the result of input from organizations across the state working together to ensure Michigan citizens have access to clean water, clean air, open spaces, healthy food, vibrant cities, good jobs, sustainable transportation and safer products.

Not only does this one-of-a-kind online tool provide visitors with a way to connect with legislators, experts and organizations across the state; it also allows citizens and decision makers to take action by making time-sensitive environmental information available to them instantly. 

Take the issue of toxins in children's products, for example, which is one of the top 2011-2012 priorities for the community. If you are concerned about this (because toxins + kids = bad, as well as the fact that toxic toys get land-filled), the Great Michigan site provides you with background and progress, updates on key legislation, and ways to take action.

The Michigan LCV team not only ensures timely updates to this site, but supplements the conversations via our own organizational website and social media. Bet you didn't know that it's not uncommon to find (the carcinogenic heavy metal) cadmium in jewelry. One of our most popular blog posts of the year focused on this very thing.   

Overall, the four top priorities identified by the community for 2011-2012 (based both on critical need and the reality of what is currently possible in Lansing) are: (1) jump-starting Michigan's economy through clean energy innovation; (2) protecting Michigan's water from unsafe (natural gas) drilling; (3) connecting Michigan's cities and towns with high speed rail (and improved public transit); and (4) helping Michigan families protect their children from toxins.

In addition, if a resident of SE Michigan is particularly interested in lead exposure in homes or the environmental injustices
often found in urban centers with the disproportionate amount of industrial activity creating large and long-lasting legacies of pollution, background on these issues, links to experts in the field, pending legislation, and more can all be found on the Great Michigan site.

Ensuring Michigan steps up to once again be a national leader in conservation and environmental protection will not be fulfilled solely through a website. But, this tool puts clear, concise, compelling information into the hands of the public, thus allowing Michigan citizens everywhere the opportunity to take a more active role in the decision-making process and provides the potential to harness a plethora of collective voices to make change.  

Our cities are resilient and our citizens tenacious. I am extraordinarily proud to be a Michigander. We all want our children to be able to swim in our lakes, drink the water without fear, play with toys free of toxins, and enjoy the beauty and bounty of our very real Pure Michigan.  Great Michigan is a vehicle to ensure that is the case.