From the February 2013 Conservationist for Kids
The Great Lakes Ecosystem
By Gina Jack
An ecosystem is a natural community that includes all of the organisms (plants, animals, fungi, etc.) which interact with each other in an area, and the nonliving components they rely upon. The Great Lakes Ecosystem contains many different kinds of organisms. While we enjoy and benefit from many plants, animals and other organisms, there are some that people find bothersome and refer to as "pests." Plants, insects, mice and other rodents-even fungi and bacteria-can all be pests.
Chemical pesticides can be useful in helping to manage pests. They are used in and around homes to control pests (e.g., wasps) and on farms to keep pests from damaging or destroying crops (e.g., European corn borer). When used wisely, pesticides can be helpful, but if we're not careful, they may be carried by surface waters and groundwater into waterbodies and their tributaries, harming them. When coping with pests, we should learn about the role of each in the ecosystem and consider how best to deal with it-whether and how we can live with it, how we can prevent it from becoming a problem, or how to remove it.
A steward is someone who takes care of things. An environmental steward is someone who recognizes their actions affect the environment and cares for it in a way that ensures people in the future will be able to enjoy it as we do today. There are lots of things for an environmental steward to think about: land, water, air and all the living organisms that depend upon them. The health of the Great Lakes is the responsibility of all people who live within the Great Lakes Basin or benefit from it.
More than 30 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin in the United States and Canada, four million of them in New York State. Great Lakes waters flow past the homes of New Yorkers every day where our state borders Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers. The lakes are used for drinking water for people living nearby, for recreation and for shipping. We depend upon some of the animals and plants in and near the Great Lakes for food.
Each of us lives in a watershed or basin. Which one of New York State's basins do you live in? Look at this map to see where water flows after it leaves you. How might your water- and land-use choices affect the people, plants and wildlife downstream from you? How will you be a steward of the watershed or basin you live in?