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Teachers say Trump's Sea Grant cuts could harm Great Lakes

Payne Horning
Fulton science teacher Dan Mainville, right, tests out a classroom activity meant to teach students about the Great Lakes at a seminar sponsored by the New York Sea Grant. The organization would be eliminated under the president's proposed budget.

For years, the Sea Grant program has helped Americans learn about the oceans, the Great Lakes and other waters. Now, President Donald Trump wants to stop funding it.

That has some New York educators worried -- including a group of middle and high school science teachers who recently gathered for a Great Lakes training seminar. At SUNY Oswego's Rice Creek Field Station, they clustered around bins full of classroom activities they can implement into their lessons about the Great Lakes. 

Helen Domske, New York Sea Grant's coastal education specialist, says these workshops and resources help teachers find ways to reach thousands of students.

"We’re trying to get teachers excited and interested in the Great Lakes so they can share this newfound information with their students and get them excited because they are the next generation of scientists," Domske said. "So if we don’t get them trained and interested, the lakes won’t have the protection they need."

In addition to education services, Sea Grant personnel also provide information and research to local governments and institutions that are tasked with preserving the Great Lakes and their resources.

"A lot of the projects we are doing now looking at impacts of extreme weather, changes of lake levels on shorelines - these kinds of projects are really important, not only to scientists or the community members, but the land owners who are getting their information from us and those we have educated," said New York Sea Grant associate director Kathy Bunting-Howarth. 

Trump's budget plan says Sea Grant is a low priority that primarily has a state and local impact. But Sea Grant's fisheries expert Jesse Lepak says the program has leveraged millions of dollars in economic impact and created thousands of jobs during its 51-year lifespan. 

"I think one-fifth of the world’s fresh water is a resource that we really need to take care of and realize how important it is," Lepak said. 

Fulton biology high school teacher Dan Mainville, who attended the recent seminar, says the information and expertise Sea Grant provides for the communities they serve is worth the investment.

"I mean how do you replace that? I don’t think you can," Mainville said. "To remove that funding is ridiculous - counterintuitive."

Kristin Scheehan-Vautrin, who teaches life science and environmental science in Pulaski, said the cuts would be a huge disservice to the nation's future. 

"I think there’s a huge disconnect for students between what they know about nature and their experiences with it," Scheehan-Vautrin said. "I think a lot of these activities allow the students to have experiences – not only outdoors, but learning about their natural resources -- and I think that’s the only way they can become a good steward for those natural resources is by having those experiences."

Trump's proposed cuts are facing bipartisan resistance from many members of Congress. Dozens of legislators, including Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus), have signed onto a letter defending the program

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.