Invasive Species at the Aquarium

  • Asian carp are one of the invasive species featured in the exhibits in your local museums. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

Big, public aquariums spend a lot of money to make fish look like they’re at home in the wild. But lately some aquariums are showing fish that are out of place. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee looks at one aquarium’s effort to give them the spotlight, too:

Transcript

Big, public aquariums spend a lot of money to make fish look like
they’re at home in the wild, but lately some aquariums are showing fish
that are out of place. The GLRC’s Shawn Allee looks at one aquarium’s
effort to give them the spotlight, too:


The federal government’s spending millions to keep Asian Carp out of
the Great Lakes. Biologists worry Asian Carp could devastate the lakes’
ecosystem. Recently, though, several carp were brought within sight of
the Great Lakes, and biologists are happy about it.


Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s
holding an exhibit of Asian Carp and other alien invasive species.


Curator Kurt Hettinger captured the aquarium’s carp during a trip on an
Illinois river.


“They’re literally jumping, sometimes over the bow of the boat,
sometimes smacking into the side of the boat. I just looked behind me
and was amazed to see all these fish jumping in the wake of the boat, and
to this day, I’m still stunned by this.”


And Hettinger’s more than just stunned. He’s worried.


Asian Carp are an invasive species, basically … pests that crowd out
native fish, and that river where he caught them hooks up to Lake
Michigan.


Again, Asian carp haven’t made it to the Great Lakes, but more than one
hundred and sixty other invasive species have arrived and are breeding
quickly.


One example’s the zebra mussel. At first, scientists worried about how
much money it could cost us. Zebra mussels multiply so fast they can
block pipes that carry cooling water to power plants. But now, we know
the zebra mussel’s disrupting the lakes’ natural food chain.


In other words, invasive species are a huge economic and ecological
nuisance. That’s why the Shedd Aquarium started the exhibit.


“The public I think has seen enough stories about the damages and the
spread and the harmfulness, but those stories are not very often coupled
with solutions.”


That’s ecologist David Lodge. He says the exhibit tries to show how
people spread these species around. Lodge points to one exhibit tank. It
looks like a typical backyard water garden. It’s decked out with a small
fishpond, water lilies, even a little fountain shaped like an angel. It looks
pretty innocent, but Lodge says plants and fish you buy for your own
water garden could be invasive species.


“All those plants and animals that are put outside, then have an
opportunity to spread. Now, it doesn’t happen very often, but with the
number of water gardens, it happens enough so that they are a serious
threat to the spread of species.”


Birds or even a quick flood could move seeds or minnows from your
garden to a nearby lake or river.


The Shedd Aquarium’s not alone in spotlighting invasive species.
Several aquariums and science museums are also getting on board. For example one in
Florida shows how invasive species have infested the Everglades.


Shedd curator George Parsons went far and wide for inspiration.


“I was in Japan last year when we were planning this, and I just
happened to stumble across one of their aquariums and they had an
invasive species exhibit, except that they were talking about large mouth
bass and blue gill. You know, something that is our natives. So, it was
kind of ironic to see that out there. It was kind of neat.”


Like us, the Japanese take invasive species seriously. Back in 1999 the
humble Midwestern Blue Gill created a national uproar. Turns out, they
had taken over ponds throughout the Emperor’s palace, and how did the
bluegill get to Japan?


Probably as a gift from a former Chicago mayor. Apparently, the mayor
thought blue gill might make nice sport fishing in Japan. It was an
innocent mistake, but it’s just the kind of mishap biologists want all of us
to avoid from now on.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Ten Threats: Expanding the Seaway

  • A freighter leaving the Duluth harbor in Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of EPA)

One of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes identified by many of the experts we surveyed
is dredging channels deeper and wider for larger ocean-going ships. In the 1950s, engineers
carved a shipping channel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence
River. The St. Lawrence Seaway was to make ports in cities such as Chicago and Duluth main
players in global commerce. Today, the Seaway operates at less than half its capacity.
That’s because only five percent of the world’s cargo fleet can fit through its locks and
channels. For decades, the shipping industry has wanted to make them bigger. David
Sommerstein reports:

Transcript

We’re continuing our series Ten Threats to the Great Lakes with a look at the idea of
letting bigger ships into the lakes. Lester Graham is our guide through the series.


One of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes identified by many of the experts we surveyed
is dredging channels deeper and wider for larger ocean-going ships. In the 1950s, engineers
carved a shipping channel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence
River. The St. Lawrence Seaway was to make ports in cities such as Chicago and Duluth main
players in global commerce. Today, the Seaway operates at less than half its capacity.
That’s because only five percent of the world’s cargo fleet can fit through its locks and
channels. For decades, the shipping industry has wanted to make them bigger. David
Sommerstein reports:


(Sound of rumbling noise of front-loaders)


The port of Ogdensburg sits on the St. Lawrence River in northern New York State.
When the Seaway was built, local residents were promised an economic boom. Today
what Ogdensburg mostly gets is road salt.


(Sound of crashing cargo)


Road salt and a white mineral called Wallastonite – the Dutch use it to make ceramic tile.
Front-loaders push around mountains of the stuff. In all, the port of Ogdensburg
welcomes six freighters a year and employs just six people.


Other Great Lakes ports are much bigger, but the story is similar. They handle low-value
bulk goods – grain, ore, coal – plus higher value steel. But few sexy electronic goods
from Japan come through the Seaway, or the gijillion of knick-knacks from China or
South Korea.


James Oberstar is a Congressman from Duluth. He says there’s a reason why. A
dastardly coincidence doomed the Seaway.


“Just as the Seaway was under construction, Malcolm McLean, a shipping genius, hit on
the idea of moving goods in containers.”


Containers that fit right on trains and trucks. The problem was the ships that carry those
containers were already too big for the Seaway’s locks and channels.


“That idea of container shipping gave a huge boost of energy to the East Coast, Gulf
Coast, and West Coast ports, and to the railroads.”


Leaving Great Lakes ports behind ever since the regional shipping industry has wanted to
make the Seaway bigger.


The latest effort came in 2002, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied the
economic benefits of expansion. The study said squeezing container ships through the
Seaway would bring a billion and a half dollars a year to ports like Chicago, Toledo, and
Duluth. But if you build it, would they come?


“Highly doubtful that container ships would come in. Highly doubtful.”


John Taylor is a transportation expert at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
He’s studied Seaway traffic patterns extensively. He says there would have to be “a sea
change” in global commerce.


“Rail is too competitive, too strong moving containers from the coast in and out say from
Montreal and Halifax and into Chicago and Detroit and so on, too cost-effective for it to
make sense for a ship to bring those same containers all the way to Chicago.”


The expansion study sparked a flurry of opposition across the Great Lakes. It failed to
mention the cost of replumbing the Seaway — an estimated 10 to 15 billion dollars. It
didn’t factor in invasive species that show up in foreign ships’ ballasts. Invasives already
cost the economy 5 billion dollars a year, and environmentalists said it glossed over the
ecological devastation of dredging and blasting a deeper channel.


Even the shipping industry has begun to distance itself from expansion. Steve Fisher
directs the American Great Lakes Ports Association.


“There was quite a bit of opposition expressed through the region, and in light of that
opposition we took stock of just how much and how strongly we felt on the issue and
quite frankly there just wasn’t a strong enough interest.”


Most experts now believe expansion won’t happen for at least another generation.
Environmentalists and other critics hope it won’t happen at all.


So instead, the Seaway is changing its tactics. Richard Corfe runs Canada’s side of the
waterway. He says the vast majority of Seaway traffic is actually between Great Lakes
ports, not overseas. So, the Seaway’s focus now is to lure more North American shippers
to use the locks and channels.


“Our efforts have to be towards maximizing the use of what we have now for the benefit
of both countries, the economic, environmental, and social benefit.”


Today, trucks and trains haul most goods from coastal ports to Great Lakes cities.
Shippers want to steal some of that cargo, take it off the roads and rails, and put it on
seaway ships headed for Great Lakes ports.


For the GLRC, I’m David Sommerstein.

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Up Close and Personal With a Prairie Fire

  • Park managers determined that this area of land in southeast Michigan was historically a prairie. They're using fire to return it to that state, and to keep invasive plants and shrubs in check. (Photo by Mark Brush)

Some natural areas need fire. A number of prairie plants and pine trees must have fire for their seeds to pop open or germinate. But burning a natural area can quickly turn into a wildfire without a team to keep it under control. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush spent a day with a burn crew… and brings us this audio postcard:

Transcript

Some natural areas need fire. A number of prairie plants and pine trees
must have fire for their seeds to pop open or germinate. But burning a
natural area can quickly turn into a wildfire without a team to keep it
under control. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush spent a day
with a burn crew… and brings us this audio postcard:


(sound of walking through dry grass and birds)


“Good morning, Hi, How’s it going?”


“Little dry?”


“It’s pretty dry, it’s forecasted, I think to be twenty one percent humidity…”


“My name is David Mindell, and I am the burn boss for this project. I’m a contractor that does ecological restoration. The first step is we’ll take a quick walk through and rake some of the fuel around stuff we don’t want to burn. This is the kind of thing if fire got in here, it’d burn for hours and hours and just put out a lot of smoke…”


“My name is Lee Root, and I just am a burn crew member. I’m filling up what’s known as an ‘Indian tank. It’s a backpack frame that has a water tank and a hand pump. This is our little portable fire engine, is what it is. So, you see where the black top is? If that was our fire, and we didn’t want the fire to come onto the grass, we would just…


(sound of squirting)


“…spray like that, and that would prevent the fire from crossing over.”


“Well, my name is Ross Orr, and I’ve been working with David for a couple of years, and um, we’re wearing these crazy, screaming yellow body suits that are flame-retardant fabric, and also helps keep us cool from the radiant heat of the burn, and big, big cumbersome helmets with visors that flip up and down…


(Sound of visor plastic clacking)


“…we’ll ingite using drip torches, which are these canisters filled with a mixutre of diesel and gas. It’s got a wick on the end, a burning wick, and as you tip the canister, it dribbles gas-diesel mix across the wick, and trails fire as you go.”


(sound of fire crackling and wind)


“Okay, I’m gonna burn it up right next to you Lee. All right, here we go.”


(sound of crackling and walkie-talkies)


“Catherine, keep coming right around.”


“Is this one of the crabapples we wanted to save, or they’re on the other end?”


“I believe they’re on the other end, unless they’re crabapples there?”


“Nope, it’s a hawthorne.”


“My name’s Catherine Marquardt, and I do whatever they tell me to do…


(sound of laughter)


“…whether it’s lighting fires or putting them out. Um, I think it looks like a Dr. Seuss story, actually, sometimes when you burn and it’s all black. You don’t get to see this very often, it’s very cool. And then it greens up so quickly, that’s the other amazing thing, is that if you come back here in a couple of days, it’s already getting green. So, it changes so quickly.”


“You know, I’m guessing it took probably forty-five minutes for the backburn to go a third of the way through the unit, and I think the headburn will run through the other two-thirds in about three minutes.”


(sound of large flames fading out)


(sound of walking, rubber squeaking and metal clanging)


Mindell: “And we’re, basically just walking around looking for things that are still smoking. Got a juniper that’s smoking at the base…


(sound of spraying)


“And just spraying out the smoldering bits.


“Burning is extremely fun, but it’s also a great management tool for improving the ecological quality of natural areas.”


(sound of wind and bird chirping)


HOST TAG: “This audio postcard of a prairie burn was produced by the
GLRC’s Mark Brush. To see photos of the burn and learn more about fire
as a management tool, you can visit glrc dot org.”

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Deer Devouring Wild Ginseng

  • As deer populations increase, the amount of vegetation they consume also increases. Included in their diet is the endangered wild ginseng. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Researchers say deer populations are threatening wild ginseng. They say the therapeutic herb could disappear from the American landscape within the next century. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane Mills has more:

Transcript

Researchers say deer populations are threatening wild ginseng.
They say the therapeutic herb could disappear from the American landscape
within the next century. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shamane
Mills has more:


Ginseng is a wild herb believed to boost energy and improve
concentration. The plant inhabits eastern deciduous forests from Maine to
Georgia.


James McGraw is a biologist at West Virginia University. He studied the
health of wild ginseng plants over the course of four years, and published his
findings in the journal Science. He found that increasing deer
populations threaten to eventually wipe out the plant.


“What we found was that populations were depressed because affects
of browsing. They weren’t reproducing; plants would begin to die and they
weren’t recruiting new plants into the population.”


McGraw says maintaining the wild herb is not only important for
ecological reasons. It’s also important to people who depend on it for
income; wild ginseng roots sell for hundreds of dollars a pound.


To control the deer population, McGraw suggests a change in hunting regulations or introducing more deer predators.


For the GLRC, I’m Shamane Mills.

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Companies Push for Forest Certification

  • Magazine publishers and other companies are thinking ahead and getting their paper from forests that have been certified. But what does this really mean? (Photo by Stanley Elliott)

Officials in the Midwest want to prove they’re not damaging their state forests. States that sell timber to paper companies are spending thousands of dollars to earn a certificate that says they’re managing the forests in a sustainable way. Paper producers are demanding that state foresters earn certification because officials want to stave off protests from consumers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports:

Transcript

Officials in the Midwest want to prove they’re not damaging their state forests. States that sell timber to paper companies are spending thousand of dollars to earn a certificate that says they’re managing the forests in a sustainable way. Paper producers are demanding that state foresters earn certification because officials want to stave off protests from consumers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports:


It’s lunchtime and employees on break from Compuware in downtown Detroit are browisng through the magazine racks at Borders. Melody Kranz says she reads three different magazines every month. She says she is an avid recycler and an impassioned environmentalist, but never considered what kind of paper was going into her magazines.


“I don’t know why I haven’t thought about it, I just haven’t. I will now. Because I’m a gardening nut, I love to garden. So yeah, I just never really thought about it.”


But executive David Refkin is betting that Franz and others like her would think twice before picking up Time Magazine if they thought a forest was demolished to make the paper. Refkin is the Director of Sustainable Development for Time Incorporated. He says he’s noticed a strong surge in environmental awareness over the past two or three years.


“We don’t want people looking at a magazine and feeling guilty that a stream has been damaged and the fish are dying in there, or that habitats aren’t being protected because people are practicing bad forestry practices.”


Refkin says his company wants to take action now, before consumer groups decide to boycott its magazines over ecological issues. Time uses more coated paper for its publications than any other company in the U.S. The company is asking that 80 percent of all paper products Time buys be certified by 2006.


To the average consumer, that may not seem like big news. But for paper producers and foresters, it’s earth shattering. Larry Pedersen is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Pedersen says getting certified means years of work for state employees. The government has to prove to investigators that its management standards take into account issues such as biodiversity, water quality, soil erosion and wildlife habitat. Pedersen says the state is also required to provide records for each tree from the moments it’s planted or inventoried to the time it’s cut down and then made into planks or paper. But he says it’s worth the effort.


“A number of wood and paper-using companies brought it to our attention that they needed to have certified products because their consumers were demanding those. And with us having four-million acres of state forestlands, we saw the writing on the wall that we needed to jump on this.”


State forests in the region generate a lot of revenue. Wisconsin’s forests earn two and a half million dollars from timber sales and Ohio pulls in almost three million. Michigan’s forests bring in 30 million dollars annually. Earlier this year, Michigan’s Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that all state forests will be certified by January 1st of 2006. And the Great Lakes State is not alone… New York, Wisconsin, and Maine are also pursuing certification and Ohio and other states are considering it.


Andrew Shalit, with the environmental activist group Ecopledge, says he’s glad Time Warner is encouraging paper companies and state governments to get certified. But he says that doesn’t necessarily mean the paper is produced in an environmentally friendly way.


“It’s great to say that they’re going to get all of their paper from certified forests. The question is, who is certifying? And in the case of Time Warner, a lot of the forests are certified by a group called SFI, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and their standards are so weak as to be almost meaningless.”


There’s a heated debate over just what certification means. There are currently two groups that certify forests in the U.S. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or SFI, was originally founded by the timber industry but is now an independent body. The Forest Stewardship council, or FSC, came out of the environmental movement… or more specifically, out of the effort to protect South American rainforests. Shalit says he doesn’t think SFI certification is as rigorous or as comprehensive as FSC.


“It really is a problem for the consumer because you see something in the store and it has a little green label on it with a picture of a tree and it says sustainably certified, and you think you’re buying something good. It’s hard for the individual consumer to keep up with that.”


Shalit says several states, like Michigan, have solved the dilemma of rival certification programs by getting dual certification. he says although the system has flaws, it will improve if consumers demand more stringent forestry regulations.


Executives at Time Warner hope they can avoid boycotts and pickets by taking action preemptively. The company is leading the push for forest certification in the U.S., and environmentalists say the federal government may have to bow to pressure eventually and get the national forests certified as well.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Celeste Headlee.

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Counterpoint: Agreements Will Invite More Diversions

  • The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)

Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:

Transcript

Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements
that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing
Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in
the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne
Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:


In theory, the proposed Agreements are supposed to provide a framework for using the water of the
Great Lakes. In reality, they’re about as leaky as a sunken lake freighter. The framework’s
there, but they fail to impose an overall limit on the volume of water that can be diverted,
or who can take it.


Not only that, but proposals to take less than a million gallons per day out of the basin won’t
require a region-wide review, several of these smaller withdrawals could eventually add up to a
whole lot of water. And whether it’s one large pipe or a lot of tiny ones, the end result is the
same.


Given that the Great Lakes basin contains 20% of all the fresh water on the planet, diverting
some of it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, only 1% of that water is renewed each year.
It would be a good idea to first figure out how much water can be taken without disrupting the
ecological balance of the Lakes. Only once that’s been done should we be looking at allowing
large-scale withdrawals.


And then there’s the threat of trade challenges. Each state or province that approves a water
taking permit won’t be paid directly for the water. Instead they’ll recieve a funding to upgrade
sewage treatment plants or to improve local habitats for example. Recently, a Canadian non-profit
asked for legal opinion about the Agreements. The response was that linking the approval process
to funding for public works basically means that the water is being sold, and under the terms of
NAFTA, once you’ve identified something as a commodity, you can’t restrict its sale.


Canadians should be particularly concerned about these Agreements. The Council of Great Lakes
Governors drafted them. And although the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have signed off on them,
in the end, neither province has the right to veto the decisions made by the Council. In my book,
that’s a lot like being invited to dinner and then being asked to leave before the main course.
And the reverse is true too. If Ontario or Quebec approves a withdrawal, states in the U.S.
wouldn’t have the ability to veto the decision. We share these lakes. If we are all called on
to protect the Great Lakes, then we all need to have an equal voice. That’s why our federal
representatives in Washington D.C. and Ottawa need to draw up a binding international agreement
on water withdrawals.


If nothing else, the proposed Agreements have made it clear that the Great Lakes must be
protected. And with 40 million users already relying on this irreplaceable resource, we clearly
need something better than these Agreements currently have to offer.


Host Tag: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario.

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Historic Castle Fortifies Great Lakes Research

During the summer, lots of people visit the Lake Erie islands at the southwest end of the lake. But there’s one island you can’t visit. It’s the site of a historic home and reserved for scientific research. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant recently visited Gibraltar Island and files this report:

Transcript

During the summer, lots of people visit the Lake Erie islands at the southwest end of the
lake. But there’s one island you can’t visit. It’s the site of a historic home and reserved
for scientific research. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Grant recently visited
Gibraltar Island and files this report:


(sound of ferry)


Visitors taking the ferry to Lake Erie’s popular South Bass Island can see a castle-like
structure through the trees on Gibraltar Island across the bay. But they can’t go there.
The island is owned by Ohio State University and home to a research lab called Stone
Laboratory.


Recently, a few reporters got to go where usually only scientists go.


(sound on boat)


Lab Director Jeff Reutter is taking soil samples from the lake bottom to show some of the
latest concerns about blue-green algae… an algae that’s toxic to some aquatic life and
makes drinking water taste bad. It’s been appearing more frequently and scientists think
the zebra mussel might be causing it.


(more boat sounds)


Researchers and students from Ohio State and elsewhere study invasive species,
pollution, shoreline erosion, and other ecological lake issues at the lab.


(sound inside castle)


The scientists who worked in the lab used to live in the structure next door, known as
Cooke’s Castle. The large home was built in the 1860’s by the family of Jay Cooke.


Cooke was not a scientist. He was a banker and investment broker, and he played a
major role in raising money for the Union Army during the Civil War. Cooke came up
with the idea of selling war bonds and raised a billion dollars for the Union Army.


Cooke bought the seven-acre Gibraltar Island in 1864 and had his summer home built on
it. Ironically, while the Union fund-raiser was vacationing on his island, Confederate
soldiers were imprisoned on nearby Johnson’s Island.


Retired Ohio State Administrator John Kleberg has been researching Jay Cooke. He says
Cooke was an avid hunter and fisherman, so Kleberg suspects he would be pleased to see
the science lab there today.


“There is a penciled correspondence where Cooke is complaining about the reduction in
the population of the fish, the bass specifically, I think, because people are net fishing,
you know where they’re taking too many fish out of the lake and the bass population
therefore is decreasing. And that’s not the way you ought to protect the bass population.
So obviously in that context he was sensitive about the need for conservation and how we
fish and how we protect fish populations. So I suspect he would be very pleased with the
kind of work that’s being done.”


Cooke’s daughter sold Gibraltar in 1925 to Franz Stone, whose family donated it to Ohio
State.


Outside, the four-story limestone turret’s crenellated top gives the appearance of a castle.
The inner rotunda walls have held up surprisingly well over 140 years.


But after years of use, the building is in need of some major repairs. Lab Director
Reutter wants to renovate the 15 room building into a conference center.


“It’s interesting too, Cooke’s, one of his sons, was an amateur photographer, and we’ve
got great photos of how the place looked at that time, so obviously that’s our goal to take
it back.”


(ambient sound inside castle runs underneath this section.)


The castle includes a spiral staircase and there’s a gorgeous wood-paneled library that
overlooks the bay…


Reutter: “So, obviously, this would be my office…” (laughter)


Ohio State University is looking for money to make renovations. But that’s proved
challenging. The castle will never be open to the public. Lab Director Reutter says that’s
not its purpose…


“Oh no, this would not be used for tourists, this is an education and an outreach facility,
so it would be a conference center but it would be for research conferences, education
conferences, Great Lakes management, this will never be open to the public.”


It’ll cost two and a half million dollars to make the renovations. If they can find the
money, Reutter and the university say Cooke’s castle will become an even more
important research center. One he expects to draw scientists to study the problems facing
the Great Lakes.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Grant.

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