GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — A national park in northern Michigan and five American Indian tribes will receive a combined $1.7 million in federal funds for environmental projects designed to provide temporary jobs for the unemployed, officials said Thursday.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is getting $891,225 to fight the spread of invasive plants, protect an endangered shorebird called the piping plover and restore woodlands damaged by the tree-killing emerald ash border. The tribes, based in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, are dividing $876,810 for restoring Great Lakes tributaries and other conservation tasks.
The money will come from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a multi-year program to deal with problems threatening the ecological health of an aquatic system containing nearly 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in August it would set aside $6.6 million from the initiative's budget — which totaled $300 million this year — for labor-intensive projects to protect wildlife habitat and endangered plants and animals while battling invasive foreign species. Eight applications were approved, including three in the Lake Erie watershed near Toledo, Ohio, and one in northern Michigan's Huron-Manistee National Forest. Two others are to be announced Friday.
"Each project will produce immediate, direct ecological benefits and will help to put unemployed people back to work," Susan Hedman, chief of EPA's Great Lakes regional office, said at a news conference on the Lake Michigan shoreline at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
The national lakeshore's grant will help deal with long-ago development within the park boundary, including introduction of exotic plants that spread rapidly and crowd out native vegetation, Superintendent Dusty Shultz said. It also will support efforts to safeguard the tiny plover, which nests on beaches and is easy prey for foxes, gulls and house pets. Nearly half the plover nests in the Great Lakes region are at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Some of the money will help restore mixed hardwood forests ravaged by the ash borer, an invasive insect that has killed millions of trees in Midwest and East Coast. The ash borer recently invaded the lakeshore but managers hope to prevent it from reaching the nearby Manitou Islands, Shultz said.
About 50 biological technicians and 10 manual laborers will be hired for the seasonal work, which will last only for a single fiscal year, she said.
The tribes sharing the federal grant include the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Michigan; the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota; the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan; the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin; and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin.
The Grand Traverse Band, based in Peshawbestown north of Traverse City, expects to use its $255,365 share to hire five people for stream restoration work such as stabilizing banks, removing woody debris and planting grass and shrubs in the floodplain. The jobs should last two years and provide the workers with skills that could lead to other employment, Tribal Chairman Derek Bailey said.
"That's key for us, to retrain people to help rebuild our local area, our community," Bailey said.