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Cleveland Stakeholders Participate in Binational Workshop to Re-Energize the Ecosystem Approach

Dr. Wendy Kellogg, Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Studies at Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin School of Urban Affairs convenes community conversation on environmental and conservation efforts

2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the U.S. Clean Water Act. This landmark agreement, and the many Great Lakes programs that followed, are grounded in sound principles of ecosystem-based management. During the summer of 2022, in recognition of these important milestones, Levin College’s Dr. Kellogg joined a group of Great Lakes leaders at the Healthy Headwaters Lab of the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, to take stock of what has been learned from the past and to look to the challenges and opportunities the Great Lakes face. 

Researchers recognized that policy changes within the Great Lakes basin have led to a reduction in municipal and industrial point source pollution, slowing the introductions of invasive species and the delisting of several Great Lakes pollution hot spots. However, many challenges remain, including nonpoint source pollution, the continued presence of harmful algal blooms, and other climate-related changes. Significant advancements in science and technology now allow water professionals to collect data on more variables, analyze larger data sets, create more sophisticated computer-based models of ecosystem function, and make more accurate forecasts of changes in this complex Great Lakes ecosystem. Partners determined the next step in this project would be to share information from the international ecosystem approach conference and get stakeholder feedback on ways and means of advancing. A total of fifteen public forums will be held throughout the Great Lakes Basin.

On October 27, 2023, Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Public Affairs and Education hosted one of these workshops on campus. Given the Levin School’s long history of fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships and integrated problem-solving, convening regional stakeholders was a natural role for Dr. Kellogg. In total, twenty-one people from northeast Ohio participated, representing diverse scientific disciplines, universities, and organizations.

Highlights of Cleveland stakeholder input include recommendations on the following:

Community engagement

  • More emphasis on engaging everyday people and ensuring benefits for all;
  • Greater emphasis on engaging youth early through place-based ecosystem approach education;
  • Case studies of successful ecosystem approach applications should be developed and communicated through storytelling; and
  • Environmental justice needs to be prioritized and Healing Our Waters Coalition is a leader in the Great Lakes.
  • Priority needs to be placed on the development of a network of “boundary spanners “– individuals who establish “bridges” within and outside an organization who can help serve as facilitators, knowledge brokers, and champions of strengthening science-policy-management linkages; and
  • In particular, city planners and landscape architects who might not focus on water resources should be recruited as boundary spanners because of their multi-disciplinary work and extensive experience in achieving social, economic, and environmental benefits
  • There is a need for long-term funding for enhanced and “smart” monitoring to be able to practice adaptive management with continuous feedback on conditions;

Examples of longstanding efforts to protect the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie Northeast Ohio include the following projects: 

  • The $100 million Gorge Dam Removal project in Akron is a good example of the use of an ecosystem approach where stakeholders have co-produced knowledge and co-innovated solutions that are resulting in removing one million cubic yards of contaminated sediment, restoring natural flow and fish passage, rehabilitating habitat, and improving recreational opportunities for the community, including creating whitewater rapids for kayaking and expanding public access for fishing;
  • Cleveland Metroparks is a good example of adopting an ecosystem approach as a management philosophy and putting it into practice;
  • Sustainable Cleveland 2019 is a good example of an initiative that is using principles of an ecosystem approach to design and develop a thriving and resilient Cleveland that leverages its wealth of assets to build economic, social, and environmental well-being for all;
  • Cuyahoga Greenway Partners is another good example of using principles of an ecosystem approach to build a regional network of trails that will provide benefits for all;
  • The Ashtabula River Partnership, a boundary-spanning organization, brought more than 50 organizations together to co-produce knowledge, co-innovate solutions, and collaboratively fund a $70 million cleanup that resulted in delisting the Ashtabula River as an Area of Concern in 2021.

After this project in the spring of 2024, a summary report will be released that includes all findings and recommendations for broad distribution throughout the Great Lakes Basin. To learn more about this ecosystem approach project, visit