I heard a statistic the other day that really got me thinking. It was in a discussion on a Chicago TV station about Asian Carp (OK, so I’m obsessed). Senator Dick Durbin (D, IL) pointed out that although Illinois has only 63 miles of Great Lakes shore land, Lake Michigan is a major natural resource in the area. 63 miles? At first, I couldn’t believe it, but I checked it out on an NPS Great Lakes Shoreline Recreation Area Survey and of course, it is true. Senator Durbin did not lie or even exaggerate. Only Indiana and Pennsylvania have less coastline (46 and 51, respectively) and in fact, people often forget that those two states are actually Great Lakes States.
Michigan has a whopping 3,222 miles of shore land. Wow, they really do get to be called the Great Lakes State. But here comes the problem. You start looking at other statistics and the situation becomes complex. How many people live in the part of Illinois that borders Lake Michigan? How many live in the Detroit area? And what about Cleveland, Buffalo and Toronto; Sandusky, Marquette and Dunkirk? What is the dollar volume of shipping through Chicago to the Mississippi River? How big an industry is sport fishing on The Great Lakes? And what about the tourism and recreation dollars?
The answer to some of those questions can be found in the Great Lakes; An Environmental Atlas and Resource Book put out by US-EPA, but the latest edition from 2003 contains statistics from 1990, so its value only goes so far. And can you put a dollar amount on a healthy ecosystem, anyway?
I am not saying that Illinois’s position is wrong, but just given the basic numbers, Michigan has a very good point. Senator Durbin’s remarks brought to mind the “tail wagging the dog”. I wonder why.