Clark Township, located along on Michigan's eastern upper peninsula, is comprised of two centuries-old coastal communities, Hessel and Cedarville. These communities are at the heart of Lake Huron's Les Cheneaux watershed, which is renowned for its pristine shoreline and 36 archipelago islands known as the Les Cheneaux Islands. Of the more than two thousand individuals who reside in the region year-round, approximately forty percent make their living from the provision of outfitting, lodging, and hospitality services to tourists who flock to the islands to relax, rejuvenate, and take part in seasonal recreation activities ("Clark Township"; Smith Interview, 2013). Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it is estimated that the population of this area nearly triples as a result of the seasonal cabin owners, making the summer months a critical period for economic growth and revenue generation (Smith Interview, 2013).
Since its inception the Les Cheneaux watershed has been known for the quality and clarity of its waters. Over the last few decades residents in the watershed have slowly noticed changes in their watershed as a result of long term management decisions related to St. Clair River dredging and today's changing climate, notably water level decline and the encroachment of invasive species ("Les Cheneaux Watershed Council"). The onset of these changes was initiated nearly 80 years ago, when dredging projects widened and deepened downstream St. Clair River channels, thereby increasing the amount of water that flowed downstream and out of Lake Michigan-Huron. Since then, it is estimated that water levels have declined more than 20 inches in the Lakes Michigan and Huron.
Although the changes in water levels have occurred slowly over nearly a century, the growth and expansion of aquatic invasive species in the area has been much more acute ("New Canada – U.S. Organization Message to Governments: Fix Low Water Levels On Lakes Michigan-Huron"). In 2002, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources first noted the presence of Myriophyllum spicatum (Eurasian watermilfoil, EWM), a rapidly growing invasive weed, in the Les Cheneaux watershed. By 2006, the invasive plant had become so dense in areas that fish populations noticeably declined and boaters were unable to navigate without their propellers becoming entrenched by the weed. As a result, recreators, residents, and resort owners alike began to voice their concerns over the health of their treasured watershed. In 2007, the local watershed management council made the decision to take management actions on their own accord. With the help of substantial funding from community members, the watershed council planted 15,000 naturally occurring aquatic weevils in two pilot locations in the hope that they would feed on the aggressively growing aquatic weed. From 2007-2011, the weevil pilot project was largely successful, reducing EWM growth by 85% during this time frame (Smith Interview, 2013).
With the help of a grant from US EPA in 2011, the watershed council was again able to plant aquatic weevils, this time across a larger area of the watershed. Despite these efforts, the EWM returned with vengeance in the summer of 2012, growing in dense carpets below the water's surface like those observed in 2006 ("Local watershed council targets milfoil"). After convening a series of public meetings to discuss the management of EWM going forward, the local watershed council has decided to pursue only biological and mechanical control strategies (Smith Interview, 2013). However, a small number of community members have independently used both chemical and mechanical control methods with limited degrees of success and public acceptance ("Les Cheneaux Continues to Weigh Water milfoil Reduction Plans"). In addition, the community has also been faced with a Phragmites australis (common reed) invasion. Similar to EWM, some concerned homeowners have worked to combat this weed's growth with herbicides and physical removal ("Les Cheneaux Watershed Council"). Since 2007, an estimated $600,000 in community investments and grant funding has been spent on the management of these invasive species in the Les Cheneaux watershed (Smith Interview, 2013). These management costs are expected to continue, lest the local economy suffer without the support of recreation and tourism revenue.
The cumulative impacts of low water levels, the onset of aquatic invasive species, and predicted change in climate could have significant implications on the accessibility and quality of the pristine natural features that are the linchpin of the local economy ("Public Gives View on Milfoil Control"). Going forward, Clark Township, like many others will be challenged to make the decisions about when and how to manage pervasive problems like aquatic invasive species, water levels, climate change, and their often times, unpredictable compounded effects.