prevention, and the 1990s was characterized by the
Two central questions emerged from the discussions
integration of economy and environment decision making
related to “how does one get ahead of the curve” with
and the development of global protocols. Beginning in the
respect to effects?  These can be summarized as:
late 1990s and continuing today, the emergence of the
precautionary principle heralded a new policy approach, to
What is the appropriate balance between efforts to
address those instances where decision making cannot be
anticipate new effects and the further development of
supported by scientific certainty.
the knowledge and understanding of what is already
The areas of binational opportunity and importance for the
What is the nature of the scientific commitment and
Great Lakes region to be a policy leader are numerous.
program necessary to ensure that both countries are
Several of the most prominent include: agricultural policy
diligent in the identification of potential new effects as
focusing on manure management and pesticide controls,
part of their overall goal of Great Lakes protection?
control of alien invasive species, improved nutrient
Changing Ecology of the Great Lakes
control, chemical emissions releases and landscape
restoration. Yet despite this list, and the emerging impor-
tance of multilateral policies that are global in scope that
Ecosystems generally exhibit a resistance to change in the
have impact on the Great Lakes, there is no one institu-
face of external  perturbations – homeostasis.  Yet, the
tional mechanism for policy development or consensus
Great Lakes have undergone tremendous ecological change
that is effective on a binational basis to address policy
in the past 200 years of human development within the
opportunities for the Great Lakes.
basin and now scientists have come to “expect the unex-
pected.”  Human population growth and its impact have
led to a great increase in the range and magnitude of
Future Challenges
stressors.  These stressors include: nutrient loads, sediment
loads, synthetic chemical loads, wetland destruction,
One interesting outcome of the discussions was that no
microbial inputs, modification of thermal regimes, exotic
truly new, previously unidentified, threats to the Great
species introductions, fish stocking and harvesting prac-
Lakes emerged, perhaps suggesting that there are current
tices, and water withdrawals/diversions, among others.
mechanisms in place to adequately identify emerging
Despite their initial impact, reductions of the severity of
issues, and that future problems of the Great Lakes will be
these past stressors may explain the recovery conditions
continuations or permutations of those issues that we are
generally thought to prevail in the lakes.
already aware of.  This could be primarily a result of our
inability to adequately address these issues currently, or in
Notwithstanding this recovery, the basin ecosystem has
the past.
evolved well beyond its historic natural state. If the Great
Lakes will never be returned to their pre-industrial state,
While these topics are not new, there are some interesting
what state or condition is achievable and acceptable?  How
“twists” to them that indeed make them important consid-
will the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement purpose to
erations for the future. The list of contaminants in the
protect and maintain biological integrity be determined, if
Great Lakes is a dynamic one, and not simply the IJC list of
that condition is undefined?   To answer these questions
critical pollutants or the Tier I and Tier II substances from
the U.S. and Canada needs a shared vision for the lakes that
the Binational Toxics Strategy (Canada and U.S., 1997).
is supported by long-term management objectives.  For
Several new classes of chemicals have been identified by
example, more integrated binational approaches to water
researchers to be present and persisting in the Great Lakes.
quality management, addressing such primary topics as
As commerce changes, so do the chemicals in our environ-
nutrients, contaminants and land use, could be identified
ment.  It is anticipated that we will continue to see new
that would enable the ecosystem approach as perceived in
chemicals in the Great Lakes.  It is noted that both Parties
the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to be fully
have programs in place to identify substances that may be
realized. An example of a long-term management objective
released into the environment and that show persistent,
might be the reestablishment of locally extirpated top
bioaccumulative or toxic properties singly, or in combina-
predators, as a prime indicator of sustainability.
New Policies
Present chemicals as well as these new chemicals may exert
new kinds of deleterious effects on fish, wildlife, and
Policy approaches since the 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality
potentially also on humans. Researchers are reporting that
Agreement have followed three distinct iterative ap-
many chemicals that were associated with the endpoints of
proaches: the 1970s marked the adoption of the regulatory
mortality and population extirpations are now exhibiting
system, the 1980s introduced the concept of pollution