A PUBLIC FORUM ON THE FUTURE OF GREAT LAKES SCIENCE -- A SUMMARY

HELD ON SEPTEMBER 24, 1995

DULUTH, MINNESOTA


On Sunday, September 24, 1995 a public forum on the future of Great Lakes science was convened as an ancillary event concurrent with the International Joint Commission's Biennial Meeting in Duluth, Minnesota. Approximately 60 people participated. The public forum highlighted proposed reductions in research and discussed ways and means of ensuring a sound scientific foundation for policy and management decision-making under the auspices of the Boundary Waters Treaty, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Great Lakes Fishery Convention, and the Great Lakes Charter.

Representatives from federal, state, provincial, and academic research institutions highlighted proposed, substantial budget cuts and potential impacts. The proposed cuts ranged from closing entire laboratories or eliminating entire programs to more manageable reductions of 5-30% over several years. Although the precise extent of the budget cuts was uncertain in both Canadian and U.S. dollars, all participants agreed that substantial research and scientific budget cuts were underway. Concern was also raised that these cuts, unfortunately, were being made in an arbitrary and uncoordinated manner.

All participants agreed that the value and benefits of scientific research are significant. However, a number of participants thought that the scientific community could do a better job of communicating those values and benefits in public decision-making processes.

A number of participants called for a binational strategy for performing the "right" research. Clearly, binational institutional mechanisms like the International Joint Commission, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Great Lakes Commission, and the International Association for Great Lakes Research can and should play a greater role in identifying and reaching binational agreement on the basic and applied research required to meet the commitments under the Boundary Waters Treaty, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Great Lakes Fishery Convention, and the Great Lakes Charter. Such a strategy would require agreement on clear management and research goals, and agreement on the requisite research to achieve those goals.

A number of participants voiced concern that current, proposed budget and program cuts would undermine our basic ability to do science. This concern for the future of Great Lakes research and science was also expressed in a letter from the president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research and approved by its Board of Directors to President Clinton and Prime Minister Chretien (see Attachment 1). Many participants noted that we need to retain, as a priority, our ability to do science and research. For example, one Great Lakes program has been targeted for a 70% reduction in researchers and scientists. It was noted that if such a program cut were to come about, it would result in a reduction in scientific research staff far below "critical mass." It would not be a question of whether or not the "right" research was being performed, but a question of whether or not that program had a basic ability to perform research and science.

Related to the concern for our basic ability to perform research and science, participants were reminded that many Great Lakes scientists are rapidly reaching the age of retirement. A survey by the International Joint Commission's Council of Great Lakes Research Managers found that replacements were available, however, sufficient jobs were not available. This represents a substantial loss of institutional memory and will seriously reduce our basic ability to perform research and science. Greater emphasis is needed on incentives for going into research and on developing a strategy to retain access to the institutional memory.

Participants commented that this forum on the future of Great Lakes science was a good mechanism to share information on budget and program cuts, and potential impacts, and to elevate the concern for the loss of "intellectual capital" (i.e., experienced scientists and researchers) required to meet the commitments under the Boundary Waters Treaty, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Great Lakes Fishery Convention, and the Great Lakes Charter. In addition, there were suggestions for actions or activities to compensate for program restraint measures in the Great Lakes Basin (Table 1). In general, these suggested actions and activities can be grouped into the following categories:

Improvements can be made in each of these areas which will achieve better economy. These actions and activities are not comprehensive or perfect, but are intended as practical steps that can be taken immediately to ensure that the important research and scientific programs survive to provide the necessary foundation for management. The rate of change in environmental and resource issues, and programs, is accelerating. Therefore, decision-makers in research, science, and management cannot be afraid to change. The suggestions presented in Table 1 are intended to better manage program constraints, pool resources, form partnerships, target priorities, and still improve effectiveness.

All participants recognized that sound and credible environmental decision-making depends on good science and strong data bases. Sound science will be even more important in ecosystem-based management decision-making processes that require understanding of cause-and-effect relationships of persistent toxic substances, impacts of exotic species, changes in food web dynamics and ecosystem structure and function, effects of incremental habitat loss and degradation, etc. In addition, such sound science is a prerequisite to setting priorities and targeting greatest risks.

Great Lakes research has resulted in substantial economic and social benefits. This summary is intended to be a call to action to ensure a sound foundation of Great Lakes science in the future and to make practical changes which can help sustain effectiveness of management programs. It is recognized that the list of actions in Table 1 is not comprehensive and other practical actions to compensate for program constraint measures need to be discussed and communicated. Many participants stated that now is not the time to sit back and do nothing. Participants urged Great Lakes scientists and researchers, and other Great Lakes stakeholders, to get more involved in shaping the direction, substance, and speed of program changes impacting the Canada-United States commitments under the Boundary Waters Treaty, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Great Lakes Fishery Convention, and the Great Lakes Charter.


Revised: 24 February 1997
Maintained by Kevin McGunagle, mcgunaglek@ijc.wincom.net

URL: www.ijc.org/php/publications/html/glsci.html