The Great Lakes are among the most important natural resources in the world. With more than 21 percent of the earth’s surface fresh water, 10,000 miles of shoreline and 30,000 islands, they provide drinking water for tens of millions of people and habitat for a vast array of plants and wildlife, including more than 200 globally rare species.
The region’s immense network of coastal marshes, inland wetlands, and forests provide critical ecological services, such as water filtration and storage, flood control, nutrient cycling, and carbon storage. The Great Lakes also offer unmatched opportunities for shipping, industry, tourism, and outdoor recreation that have fostered one of the largest economies in the world.
Despite these values, the Great Lakes have been significantly degraded by human activity during the past two centuries. Threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species and pollution have impaired water quality, wildlife populations, and quality of life in the basin.
Sustain Our Great Lakes is a public–private partnership designed to address these threats and improve the ecological health of the Great Lakes basin. Its mission is to sustain, restore, and protect fish, wildlife, and habitat in the basin by leveraging funding, building conservation capacity, and focusing partners and resources toward key ecological issues. The program achieves this mission, in part, by awarding grants for on-the-ground habitat restoration and enhancement.
Funding priorities for this program include:
- Aquatic connectivity (e.g., dam removal, bridge and culvert replacement, installation of fish passage structures);
- Riparian and stream habitat (e.g., streambank stabilization, invasive species control, restoration of native vegetation, placement of in-stream structures);
- Wetlands (e.g., invasive species control, restoration of native vegetation, hydrological restoration); and
- Near-shore/shoreline habitat (e.g., restoration/enhancement of spawning reefs, removal of artificial structures, restoration of natural beach topography).
From 2006 through 2015, the program has awarded 245 grants worth $54.8 million in federal and corporate partner funding. Grantees matched this funding with an additional $58.8 million, for a total conservation investment of over $113 million. Some of the important outcomes generated by this investment include 1,698 miles of restored aquatic connectivity, 33,184 acres of restored habitat, and 198 miles of restored stream and riparian habitat.
NFWF administers the Sustain Our Great Lakes program in partnership with ArcelorMittal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.