International Joint Commission


A binational project that sought to assess a pathway that can lead to net habitat gain in Great Lakes wetlands


Great Lakes Basin

Project Highlights

  • Current challenges to protecting and enhancing wetlands. Examples where wetland conservation/protection policies and programs have led to improved water quality and ecosystem health, including supporting and increasing wetland habitat and function.
  • Tools, approaches, and authorities specific to wetland conservation/management with respect to the jurisdictions, as well as a summary of gaps to supporting healthy and productive wetlands exist.
  • Native American Tribes, First Nation and Metis world views, interests and perspectives on Great Lakes wetlands.
  • A pathway to achieving a target of net habitat gain in the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes region’s people, economy, and culture are inextricably linked with the health of its wetlands. Wetlands improve water quality in a variety of capacities (e.g., nutrient and sediment sequestration, flood retention, regulation of water temperatures). As of 2017, more than 200,000 hectares of coastal wetlands had been identified along the Great Lakes and connecting rivers up to Cornwall, Ontario, but even this inventory is incomplete and underestimates the total wetlands areas, especially in the upper Great Lakes.

Despite the necessary role wetlands play, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency estimates there is about half the wetland acreage there once was compared to pre-settlement, with some areas seeing a drop by as much as 90 percent. In 2017, wetlands are still being lost, impaired, and/or degraded because of land use conversion. This degradation is exacerbated by invasive species, isolation, altered hydrology, and the effects of climate change. The results of these stressors are degraded wetland quality and reduced resilience. Cumulatively, these losses have had a serious negative impact on the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The International Joint Commission asked ECT to facilitate the development of a new report listing recommendations on how the states and provinces can be more effective in protecting, restoring, and enhancing the wetland resources within the Great Lakes Basin and connecting waterways. This project was a broad, collaborative effort, and the collated findings were outlined so they could be implemented on the broadest scale possible.