What We Do to Protect the Great Lakes

Lake Huron 

The Great Lakes are a breathtaking and unique natural resource. They are the world’s largest surface freshwater ecosystem and contain 20 percent of all surface freshwater on the planet. More than 35 million people in eight states and Canada depend on the Lakes for their drinking water.

The Great Lakes watershed provides habitat for wildlife, including the gray wolf, Canada lynx and the millions of migratory birds that pass through in the spring and fall. The five lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario – are home to numerous fish such as walleye, whitefish, trout and lake sturgeon.

In spite of their majesty, the Great Lakes are fragile and face serious threats from invasive species, toxins, water diversion, wetland destruction, sewage overflows and climate change.


At the Great Lakes Regional Center, NWF works to...


Restore the Great Lakes - As the co-chair of the 120-organization Healing Our Waters® - Great Lakes Coalition, NWF is working to enact and fund the comprehensive plan to restore the Lakes that aims to clean up toxic sediments; protect and restore wildlife habitat and wetlands; reduce polluted runoff; halt new invasive species; and stop sewage from contaminating the Lakes. Our efforts have brought billions in new funding to Great Lakes cleanup projects that restore the Great Lakes, protect wildlife habitat and revitalize the economy.

Connect Kids with Nature – NWF-Great Lakes is growing a grassroots online and on-the-ground kids and wildlife community of cause called Wildlife Nation that empowers and supports adults in connecting kids with wildlife and habitat in ways that are meaningful and pass from generation to generation. Through Wildlife Nation and our leadership in advocating for and guiding state education policies to green schools and enhance children’s environmental literacy, NWF is helping children regain their connection to the natural world.

Stop Invasive Species - NWF is leading the charge to prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes by advocating for the permanent separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin. We are working to stem the tide of invasive species in ballast water tanks of seafaring ships by promoting effective legislation and pursuing legal challenges to ensure that the Clean Water Act is upheld.

Improve the Environments Where People Live - Through our Midwest Urban Initiative, NWF is working in the Great Lakes region's largest urban centers and communities of color to help strengthen the work being done on energy and sustainability; green job development; air and water quality; brown field and hazardous waste clean-up; and environmental justice issues.

Safeguard the Great Lakes From the Effects of Climate Change - As one of the first groups in the region to work on climate change adaptation, NWF is taking the lead to assess vulnerability, create policies, and design “climate-smart” restoration and conservation projects that protect wildlife in the Great Lakes from climate change. Our partners include the Healing Our Waters® - Great Lakes Coalition, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes LCC. Learn more at www.nwf.org/climate-smart.

Reduce the Pollution Causing Climate Change - The Great Lakes Regional Center is a hub for climate policy advocacy from city halls, to state capitols, to Washington, D.C.  We defend the Clean Air Act, lead the fight to reduce mercury emissions from coal-burning powerplants, and support breakthrough solutions on fuel efficiencyrenewable energy and energy efficiency that reduce the pollution that harms our waters and wildlife.

Defend the Great Lakes from Oil Pipeline Spills – The Great Lakes are threatened by oil spills, ageing pipelines and increased imports of raw tar sands oil. National Wildlife Federation is dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes from becoming the next oil spill victim by making sure pipeline networks are properly regulated and by working to preventing new dangerous pipelines in the Great Lakes region.

Save Lake Superior From Sulfide Mining - Sulfide mining is a dangerous form of mining that has a legacy of decimating water resources. NWF is defending a premier tributary of Lake Superior from proposed sulfide mining directly beneath its waters. The outcome could set a precedent for future sulfide mining that determines the health of Lake Superior for generations.

Sustaining Healthy Lake Levels and Flows of Water - National Wildlife Federation recently met one of the most important challenges to the Great Lakes – preventing diversions of Great Lakes water out of the region. Thanks to 10 years of hard work by NWF and a host of partners, the  Great Lakes - St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact  was enacted in 2008. NWF continues to lead efforts to implement the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact in all eight Great Lakes states.

Guard Water Quality - NWF is working to guard wildlife and human health by keeping our Great Lakes and waterways clean. We have had many successes in stemming pollution in the past, but today we face a new challenge: excessive nutrients from farm fertilizer and manure. Lake Erie, in particular, experiences massive toxic algal blooms from excess nutrients. NWF works with a number of partners, including the Western Lake Erie Basin Partnership, scientists, farmers, businesses, land managers, and restoration experts to find solutions that guard Great Lakes water quality.

  • Toxic Algae ReportToxic Algae: Could it be coming to a lake near you? NWF has teamed up with Resource Media to create a new map that charts hazardous algal blooms as they spread across the United States.   -- Read NWF's report to learn more.

Revitalizing the Huron River Corridor in Southeast Michigan - The National Wildlife Federation is a leader in the new RiverUp! project to fix up recreation infrastructure, clean up areas in need of restoration, and build up destination spots that bring people to the riverfront. Along with partner organizations and leaders in the community, we are rejuvinating the Huron River as a destination for local residents and tourists.

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