The Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation focuses on scientific research, communication, and thought leadership on water issues in the Great Lakes region and beyond. The Burke Center specializes in “translating” science to the general public, government agencies, NGOs, agriculture, and the private sector, helping to edify water policy in a wide variety of geographies and subject areas. As society enters an era of increasing water tension and scarcity, a key goal of the Burke Center is to improve water literacy among people everywhere.

The Burke Center will promote the health and sustainable use of the world’s freshwater resources, one of the greatest global challenges of our time. As public policy has evolved to address these challenges, it has become clear that effective and lasting solutions to complex water problems requires an integration of insights from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

In order for society to sustain the health of its freshwater resources, it is essential that leaders think critically across disciplines and collaborate to identify creative solutions and inspire action. The Burke Center will address these needs by integrating the education, research, and outreach programs at Northland College with the resources of Forest Lodge to:

  • train future water resource stewards,
  • develop solutions to water resource problems, and
  • catalyze conversations among regional, national, and international leaders on sustainable freshwater use

With facilities located in both the Great Lakes watershed (on campus), and the Mississippi River watershed (at Forest Lodge), the Burke Center is uniquely positioned to conduct science and outreach in two of the largest watersheds in North America.

Randy Lehr, Codirector

Research in lake

Randy Lehr is the Mary Griggs Burke distinguished professor of environmental science and management.  In this role, he teaches a series of courses that focus on integrated ecosystem management, ecological restoration and natural resource policy and oversees an applied research program. His current research addresses two primary issues—characterization of nearshore ecosystems and climate change impacts in Lake Superior, and integrated ecosystem assessment and management planning for inland lake and watershed ecosystems. In previous roles, his research has focused on: 1) watershed assessment to support water quality and Pacific salmon restoration; 2) watershed and aquatic response modeling to support the federal Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program; and, 3) development of ecological condition indicators for Great Lakes coastal wetlands, as part of the Great Lakes Ecological Indicators (GLEI) project.

In addition to his teaching and research, he has also been actively involved with the coordination, implementation, and assessment of a number of large-scale watershed and ecosystem restoration efforts throughout the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. In Wisconsin, he has worked with a regional natural resource management coalition on the south shore of Lake Superior, the Chequamegon Bay Area Partnership (CBAP), to prioritize, implement, and assess a range of watershed restoration projects as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). In Washington State, he worked with the Chehalis Basin Partnership (CBP) to prioritize and implement watershed-scale restoration efforts to support water quality management and Pacific salmon recovery.

Peter Annin, Codirector

Peter Annin on beach

A veteran conflict and environmental journalist, Peter Annin spent more than a decade reporting on a wide variety of issues for Newsweek. For many years he specialized in coverage of domestic terrorism and the radical right, including the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the Branch Davidian standoff outside Waco, Texas. He has also spent many years writing about the environment, including droughts in the Southwest, hurricanes in the Southeast, wind power on the Great Plains, forest fires in the mountain West, recovery efforts on the Great Lakes, and the causes and consequences of the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

After his time at Newsweek, Annin became associate director of the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources, a nonpartisan national nonprofit that organizes educational fellowships for mid-career environmental journalists. In September 2006 he published his first book, The Great Lakes Water Wars, which has been called the definitive work on the Great Lakes water diversion controversy. In 2007 the book received the Great Lakes Book Award for nonfiction. From 2010 to 2015 Annin served as managing director of the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative, which targets the interrelated problems of invasive species, land use, and climate change, focusing on their synergistic impacts on water resources.

Since 2004 Annin has served as the volunteer executive director of Gull Rock Lightkeepers, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring Gull Rock Lighthouse, a storied Lake Superior light two and a half miles off Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University in New York.

In August of 2015, Annin joined Northland College as co-director of the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation.

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