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Island challenges require Island solutions

January 01, 2018 9:30 AM | Anonymous

HISCFA Director and Treasurer Harold Stieber is representing Harsen's Island residents with the Great Lakes Islands Coalition to come up with Island solutions.

The Great Lakes contain the largest, most diverse collection of freshwater islands in the world. Of the 32,000 islands in the Great Lakes, nearly twenty continue to host communities of people, typically a mix of year-round residents, seasonal transplants, and transient visitors. With no permanent connection to the mainland, they are literally defined and shaped by water. They are the quintessential “Great Lakes coastal community.”

While present-day island communities are uniquely distinct from one another in character, traditions, and personality, they share in common a number of complex, inter-related challenges. These include access to services and quality education, supporting a diversified economy, and managing natural, cultural, and historical resources across public and private boundaries. Underlying these challenges is the fact that island demographics are changing at great speed and dimension (size, age, seasonality, ownership, economic status, etc.). For these small and remote places, the relative impact of a rapidly changing society can be enormous.

Further, awareness and understanding of “island life” is limited among many mainland decision-makers, such as governments, private organizations, and the general public. In a world driven by information, there are few, if any, programs or data sets specific to most Great Lakes islands – either individually or as a collective – by which to accurately inform management decisions and drive strategic actions related to social, economic, environmental, and other challenges.

Luckily, these challenges are hurdles, not unmovable barriers. In fact, some island communities have already independently developed their own “island solutions to island challenges.” Interestingly, island communities are finding they often have more in common with one another than to their adjacent mainland. Thus, there is great value in islanders learning from other islanders about best practices that work, as well as those that don’t.

Major impediments to more systematically implementing more solutions on more islands are a lack of capacity and limited access to information. To help address these needs, a new collaboration – the “Great Lakes Islands Coalition” – is forming between multiple island communities with support from off-island partner organizations. Currently under development, it will be built off existing models of island collaboration in places elsewhere but will be tailored to meet the unique needs of the Great Lakes region.

A Coalition will foster broader island-to-island coordination and dialogue, including regular sharing of tools and ideas. Participating islands will benefit from access to timely and accurate information, technical experts and decision-makers. Ultimately, any implementation would occur on individual islands at their own discretion and pace. By coming together, island voices would be elevated and amplified, resulting in greater awareness and understanding on the mainland.

Great Lakes islands are uniquely poised to turn their challenges into opportunities. This past September, representatives from Harsen’s Island were asked to represent our island in the inaugural Islands Summit titled “Laying the Foundation for a Great Lakes Island Coalition”. It was organized by a little known, independent State of Michigan department, the Office of the Great Lakes, which works to protect and restore our state’s waters. It reports directly to the governor and, for budget purposes only, shows up under the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

In attendance were 72 participants from 11 Great Lakes islands including islands from Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Canada. The meeting was held at the Central Michigan University Biological Station on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan where attendees overwhelmingly supported the solidification of the foundation of the Great Lakes Island Coalition that was established here. The overall sentiment was a renewed conviction that we can accomplish things as a group that we can’t do individually. Subsequent topical meetings will be held throughout the coming year on a webinar basis coordinated by the OGL so that groups with interest in a particular topic would be able to participate without involving groups to which the topic is not relevant.

A gathering of all island groups will be planned every year.

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