Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Conserving the nature of America

About the Initiative

Comprised of more than 10,000 miles of coastline and 30,000 islands, the Great Lakes provide drinking water, transportation, power and recreational opportunities to the 30 million citizens who call the Great Lakes basin home. As the largest group of fresh water lakes on Earth, the Great Lakes hold 95 percent of the surface fresh water in the United States. An important economic resource, the Great Lakes are the heart of industries responsible for more than 1.5 million jobs and $62 billion in wages to American citizens. Among these industries fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching in the Great Lakes generates almost $18 billion in annual revenue.

Years of environmental degradation have left the Great Lakes in need of immediate on-the-ground action to save this precious resource for generations to come. Initiated in 2010, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is a driver for environmental action and represents a collaborative effort on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 15 other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to address the most significant environmental concerns in the Great Lakes. Throughout the last decade, we have worked alongside partners to protect, restore and maintain the Great Lakes ecosystem. Building upon strategic recommendations for how to improve the Great Lakes ecosystem, we facilitate the implementation of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan priority programs, projects and activities to protect, restore, and maintain the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan identifies five major focus areas to serve as a guide for collaborative restoration work. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has projects in the following focus areas:

Toxic Substances and Areas of Concern, including pollution prevention and cleanup of the most polluted areas in the Great Lakes. Years after pollution stops, persistent pollutants can remain in the environment, often trapped in sediments below the surface of the water. The areas of the Great Lakes Basin most severely impacted by these pollutants are known as Areas of Concern. We are working alongside partners to restore and protect these aquatic ecosystems from the threat of persistent pollutants. We have initiated projects that also address the looming threat of emerging contaminants like hand sanitizers, pharmaceuticals and other personal care products.

Invasive Species, including efforts to institute a “zero tolerance policy” toward new invasions and the establishment of self-sustaining populations of invasive species, such as Asian carp. More than 180 non-native species are considered established in the Great Lakes. The most invasive of these reproduce and spread so quickly that they out-compete native species. They ultimately degrade the habitat where they live and disrupt food webs. We work to control and eradicate harmful non-native species in the Great Lakes. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding has been allocated to us for work specifically concerning Asian carp control and management, with additional funding allocated for state projects.

Nonpoint Source Pollution Impacts on Nearshore Health, including funding to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support projects aimed at reducing environmental impacts from contaminated stormwater runoff in urban areas.

Habitats and Species, including bringing wetlands and other habitat back to life, and the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the entire 530,000 acres of Great Lakes coastal wetlands for the purpose of strategically targeting restoration and protection efforts in a science-based manner. From climate change to increasing development activities along the shores of the Great Lakes, a multitude of threats are affecting the health of the Great Lakes habitats and native wildlife. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding helps to identify, restore and protect important habitat for native fish and wildlife.

Foundations for Future Restoration Actions to identify and address Great Lakes ecosystem health priorities using a landscape conservation design approach. We foster climate resiliency through initiative-funded projects, educate the next generation about the importance of the Great Lakes to fish, wildlife, plants and people, and continue to apply our science-based adaptive management approach for new and ongoing projects.


A Decade of Success

Throughout the last decade, we have been working alongside partners to protect, restore and maintain the Great Lakes ecosystem through support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The following is a retrospective collection of successes in celebration of a decade of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Overhead view of a man leaning over a large plastic tub filled with water surrounded by Asian carp.
A fish biologist seperates Asian carp from native species after electrofishing. Wes Bouska/USFWS

Taking back our waters

Originally imported from Southeast Asia to the southern United States in the 1970s as a biological control method for vegetation in man-made aquaculture ponds and wastewater treatment facilities. Asian carp escaped into America’s rivers not long after and began moving northward toward Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. We strategically began work to keep them out of the Great Lakes more than a decade ago, because we saw a grave environmental danger.

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Learn More

For the latest information on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, visit GLRI.us.