On Monday, Feb. 11, the author of “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes,” Dan Egan, stopped by Lawrence for a small, informal lecture. Egan works full time for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is a Senior Fellow in the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His main focus across the various aspects of his writing and science career has been on the Great Lakes, which he has researched and reported on since 2003. For his talk, he gave a brief history of his career and work and then opened up the floor for whatever questions people had for him.
We learned that he did not actually have any kind of science background; he majored in history at the University of Michigan and only began to get into journalism when he worked at Yellowstone National Park as a historian and eventually transitioned into working for an Idaho publication. His early journalism career took him from various parts of Idaho to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he covered a range of environmental issues like endangered species. He moved back to Wisconsin in 2002 and is now dedicated to the preservation and study of the Great Lakes.
Egan realized he could publish a book when he looked back at all the reporting he had done on the Great Lakes, which at that point was about a decade’s worth of reporting, including various articles resembling chapters in a book. Egan was working through a master’s program and fellowship at Columbia University when he made his book proposal to resounding approval.
He went on to talk about the chapter in his book on the Asian Carp, which are literally carp from Asia that somehow found themselves in the Great Lakes. He says it was his favorite chapter to write, and judging from the response of the audience, most of whom had the book, it was their favorite chapter as well. This is probably because, of all the phenomenon covered in the entire book over the course of ten years, the carp was the strangest and most interesting thing.
I, myself, was unclear as to whether the Asian Carp dilemma was a good thing or a bad thing, considering I haven’t read the book or done any research into the Great Lakes and its ecosystems. As it turns out, now that I have done a little research, officials across Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have been trying to get rid of the Asian Carp from the entirety of the Great Lakes, as they believe the Great Lakes lack the plankton levels to sustain the lives of the carp. The carp would do better in the Mississippi River basin, according to an article published by Egan in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2017.
If this talk showed me anything, it’s that the Great Lakes are essential to life across the country, and maybe even the world. Making sure to maintain consistent reportage on the activity of the lakes is essential and important for us and our dwindling harmony with nature.