Developing the Western Lake Erie report card in Toledo, Ohio

Bill Dennison ·
23 May 2019
Environmental Report Cards | Science Communication | 

Andrew Elmore and I traveled to Toledo, Ohio to facilitate a workshop focused on indicators and thresholds for the Western Lake Erie report card project. The workshop was held on 24-25 April 2019 in the Lake Erie Center, a beautiful facility run by the University of Toledo. Sandy Bihn, the Lake Erie Riverkeeper, was our sponsor and Tom Bridgeman, University of Toledo was our host.

Prior to the workshop, Andrew and I drove around the Maumee River mouth to get a feel for the region. We visited Bay View Park at the mouth of the Maumee River and saw an eagle nest and lots of logs and woody debris from the recent flooding. We also visited the modern Promenade Park in downtown Toledo. A fisherman was actively catching the invasive white perch and he told us about fishing in the Maumee River. It turns out he has a YouTube channel, ALOF TV (A Lot of Fishing), with many subscribers. We also viewed the iconic Toledo Harbor Lighthouse through binoculars and Sandy Bihn told us about its history and the current renovations taking place.

A-Big catching a white perch on the river. Photo Bill Dennison.

Our initial Lake Erie workshop was in November 2018, held in Sandusky, Ohio. Many of the same people attended the April workshop, but there were new faces as well. The major goal of this workshop was to finalize the reporting regions for both the watershed and the lake. In addition, we wanted to narrow down our indicator list from the original “wish list” and explore thresholds for the nominated indicators. One of the most important aspects of this workshop was to identify the data sources for each indicator, provided either by personal contacts and/or a URL.

A defining feature of producing a report card for this region is
the somewhat unique combination of possessing abundant relevant data combined
with a gap in synthesizing or even consolidating existing data. The different
jurisdictions including two countries, multiple states and municipalities
contribute to this lack of consolidation. Our next large effort will be to
track down the relevant people and data sources to begin the process of pulling
the data together. We are calling this phase the data discovery and ‘data
wrangling’ stage.

In developing indicators and thresholds, we found that
approaching the issue in a variety of ways was helpful. The different
approaches were the following: 1) Develop a prioritized list of key indicators
for a) the watershed and b) the lake. 2) Review and edit the map of reporting
regions. 3) Brainstorm the major stories that would accompany the report card
release. 4) Produce a prototype report card for the watershed and lake, based
on expert knowledge. These alternative approaches informed the discussion of
reporting regions, indicators, and thresholds. For example, once we began
producing the prototype report card with scores, we quickly realized that one
of the reporting regions needed to be subdivided. But this was not evident when
we had been directly assessing the reporting region map.

Lake Erie Center entrance sign greeting us as we came in. Photo Bill Dennison.

There are various reasons that the Lake Erie Center was an ideal
workshop venue. The center has a series of large satellite images and colorful
bathymetry charts which we found handy to reference. The conference rooms are
appropriately named, as we had two breakout groups to focus on a) Lake Erie and
b) the watershed. The rooms are named the Lake Erie Room and the Maumee River
room. The Center has incredible views of Lake Erie and a nice restaurant across
the street called the Oregon Inn. Each room has extensive white board space
which also had the advantage of being able to project the computer images onto
a screen or directly on the white board so that we could make edits on maps or
figures. The A/V equipment was state of the art, with a nice camera and
microphone to include seamless virtual attendance. We had excellent catering
and we enjoyed eating in the lobby with views of the lake while surrounded by
beautiful displays of photography from students and an exhibit by the Black
Swamp Conservancy. My experience is that the key to good hosting is good
people, and Rachel Lohner was indeed a great host.

One of the books we discovered in the process of immersive
learning about Lake Erie was “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes”. This book
was written by Dan Egan, a Milwaukee based journalist and published in 2017. It
reminded me of Tom Horton’s wonderful summary of Chesapeake Bay, “Turning the
Tide”.  Having the big picture, complete
with interesting facts and stories make these books a valuable addition to the
data sets and scientific papers that we are tracking down. In the Great Lakes
book, there were several tidbits that I found fascinating.

The beautiful Lake Erie Center giving us a lovely view of the surrounding area. Photo Bill Dennison.

One story that I had not heard was the passage in the children’s book “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel). Dr. Seuss wrote about a mythical place where “fish walk on their fins and get woefully weary in search of some water that wasn’t so smeary”. He added “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie” in the original 1971 edition. In 1986, he was persuaded to remove the line about Lake Erie in subsequent editions of “The Lorax”. Given the current situation with chronic and massive harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, the original version of “The Lorax” including the line about Lake Erie may be more appropriate.

I enjoyed the observation that Egan made about his meeting with Tom Bridgeman, our Lake Erie Center host. Egan wrote “Bridgeman has a sharp nose and intense blue eyes, which reminded me a bit of the character Hooper, the biologist Richard Dreyfuss played in Jaws”. I teased Tom about this description and made a movie poster, replacing Richard Dreyfuss’ face with that of Tom Bridgeman. I also replaced Captain Quint’s face with that of the workshop participant Rick Graham and Chief Brodie’s face with that of Sandy Bihn, since she is the hero of this project.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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