Cleveland Rocks: From 'Mistake on the Lake' to 'Green City on a Blue Lake'
Morgan Rogers is a senior at Baldwin Wallace University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sustainability with double minors in Urban Studies and Sociology. After graduating she would like to work with environmental nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland area.
Cleveland, Ohio was once a booming industrial city, home to winning sports teams and both economic growth and innovation. Cleveland was doing so well it was deemed the “best location in the nation” in the 1950s. But less than 20 years later that reputation would all change.
When Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 due to the water being so polluted from industrial waste, the event sparked national attention. As word spread about the "city whose river caught fire" Cleveland’s reputation took a major hit. Cleveland became the symbol for environmental degradation, and the city was nicknamed the "mistake on the lake." This legacy continued for quite some time as the rust belt city’s manufacturers moved out, praised sports teams declined and the city that was once considered to be the "best location in the nation" became somewhat of a joke to the rest of country—a place no one wanted to visit.
Fortunately, Cleveland has been trying to make a new reputation for itself in recent years and is beginning to step out of the smoke screen of its 1969 river fire. In 2009, the city created Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a 10-year action plan initiative devoted to addressing environmental issues and raising awareness. The goal of this action plan is to focus on a different aspect of sustainability within the city each year until the year 2019—50 years after the infamous fire. Cleveland is building a new reputation of a sustainable "green city on a blue lake" by promoting nine sustainability initiatives. Each initiative serves as the year’s theme for addressing environmental issues in the city. The nine themes are:
- 2011: The Year of Energy Efficiency
- 2012: The Year of Local Foods
- 2013: The Year of Advanced and Renewable Energy
- 2014: The Year of Zero Waste
- 2015: The Year of Clean Water
- 2016: The Year of Sustainability Mobility
- 2017: The Year of Vibrant Green Space
- 2018: The Year of Vital Neighborhoods
- 2019: The Year of People
This is the year of Clean Water in which the City of Cleveland will be focusing on the region's vital water resources. Cleveland just celebrated EarthFest—the nation’s longest running Earth Day celebration—which uses the sustainability initiatives as its theme every year as well. In the fall the City of Cleveland holds a sustainability summit that calls together environmentalists, business leaders, students and other concerned citizens to sit down and talk about what can be done to address the year’s theme. Every year, the summit produces new working groups and new organizations to tackle the city's environmental challenges.
So, how successful is this type of action plan? Cleveland has made great strides in sustainability, particularly in the local food movement. In fact, Cleveland was recently ranked seventh place in Time’s "America's Best Food Cities" for 2015, beating out notable "foodie cities" like San Francisco which came in at 19, New Orleans at 15, New York City at 10 and even Portland, Oregon which ranked 8. Cleveland is also home to Ohio City Fresh Food Collaborative, one of the largest contiguous urban farms in the U.S. at six acres.
Cleveland is even making serious strides in renewable energy. LEEDCo is planning to build an offshore wind pilot project, Icebreaker, seven miles offshore of downtown Cleveland, which could become the first offshore freshwater wind project in North America.
Cleveland has come a long way in the 50 years since the infamous Cuyahoga River fire, even hosting a sustainable celebratory Burning River Fest every year in the summer to help Clevelanders celebrate just how far the city has come. Home to one of the largest urban farms in the country, the longest running Earth Day celebration and what would be the country’s first offshore freshwater wind farm, Cleveland is well on its way to achieving its vision of a "green city on a blue lake." The city is crafting a new reputation for itself and leading the way in sustainability efforts, all the while redeeming itself of the Cuyahoga River fire as well as its polluting legacy.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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